UBS Americas Pledges $1.2 Million to VFA

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Today, we are thrilled to announce a new partner and supporter: UBS Americas.

Over the next three years, UBS will invest $1.2 Million to support two core VFA program areas: education and training.

In addition to becoming the primary supporter of the Venture for America Fellow Training Camp at Brown University over the next three years, UBS will give VFA access to its resources and expertise.

In the press release from UBS, CEO Bob McCann spoke about their newest partnerships, which also includes a $100,000 commitment to American Corporate Partners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting veterans in their transition from the armed services to the civilian workforce.

“Our announcement today underscores UBS Americas’ vision of creating a stronger America where everyone has the opportunity to fulfill their potential and achieve financial independence,” said McCann. “Venture for America and American Corporate Partners have clear mandates to take actionable steps at the very heart of what it will take to get the American economy going again – with two important bastions of our future: the next generation of entrepreneurs and our veterans. That makes them the ideal partners for our mission.”

We could not be more excited to be working with UBS as part of their Revitalizing America initiative.

Different Cities Do Different Things

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VFA Founder Andrew Yang on how cities tend to breed companies that solve the problems of their region


By Andrew Yang (originally published in the Huffington Post)

When I visited Cincinnati I met with a company called General Nano – they manufacture a carbon nanotube material that can be used to make planes more resistant to lightning strikes. The U.S. Navy is an investor through the Office of Naval Research. The military comes through Cincinnati in part because G.E. Aviation, which manufactures airplane components, is in the city.

General Nano is an example of a company that would be unlikely to be founded in, say, New York. If you look at the latest wave of New York startups (e.g., Rent the Runway, Warby Parker, Foursquare, Gilt Groupe, Etsy, Kickstarter, etc.) they tend to capitalize on New York’s existing industries (e.g., fashion, retail, etc.). Cities tend to produce startups that are either solving their problems or building on existing strengths.

Other companies in Cincinnati include The Brandery, a startup accelerator that emphasizes brand building, and Blackbook HR, a software solution to help corporations integrate employees into the community and help them feel more rooted. Both of these were born in the shadow of Procter and Gamble, the consumer products giant that is perhaps Cincinnati’s most prominent corporate anchor. In this case, both branded innovation and employee satisfaction are issues of interest to the established organizations of the region.

You can see the same phenomena in other cities. New Orleans is a haven for education reform as the only city in the U.S. where more than half of all public school children attend charter schools. Also in New Orleans are 4.0 Schools, a design lab for education innovation, and Kickboard, an analytics and student tracking software company for teachers.

Baltimore, the home of Johns Hopkins University, has a cluster of innovative health tech companies such as Reify Health, which uses mobile technology to improve and measure medical treatments. Reify Health was started by four Johns Hopkins medical and graduate students who left school to start the company. Baltimore also has cyber security start-ups, like Riskive, that benefit from the city’s proximity to Fort Meade and US Army Cyber Command. Cleveland has companies like Linestream, which provides next-generation motor controls to save energy and money for appliances, and Maker Gear, which sells 3-D printers, in sync with the city’s robust manufacturing base.

There’s an overly simplistic notion that Silicon Valley is the only place for technology companies to thrive. We all remember Facebook moving out West in ‘The Social Network.’ But even Mark Zuckerberg said in 2011, “If I were starting now, I would have stayed in Boston” and advocated “You don’t have to move out here to do this.”

The problems that you see startups tackling are dramatically different in different cities. Silicon Valley is unlikely to produce the same set of companies as New York or Cleveland because the region has a different set of strengths and defining institutions. We need people building companies all over the country to innovate in aviation, consumer products, education, health, cybersecurity, biotech, manufacturing, and everything in between.

Summer Celebration: Last Chance to Get Advanced Tickets!

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There’s less than 48 hours left to get your Advanced Tickets to the 2013 VFA Summer Celebration. Prices go up tomorrow, May 1st, at 11:59 pm. If you’re planning on buying tickets, now’s the time!

Advanced Tickets (Until May 1st at 11:59pm): $250
General Admission Tickets (After May 1st): $300
VIP Tickets: $1000

Get your tickets today!

In addition to our already impressive list of guests, our newest confirmed VIP attendees include:

Lauren Zalaznick, Executive Vice President of NBCUniversal
Mike Perlis, CEO of Forbes
Cyrus Massoumi, CEO and Co-founder of ZocDoc

We hope to see you there!

VFA is coming to Philly

Venture for America is excited to announce that we’re sending Fellows to Philadelphia in 2013!

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In 2012, we announced our expansion to Baltimore and Cleveland, and are thrilled to add Philadelphia as our 8th VFA city.

With its ever-expanding startup ecosystem, our nation’s oldest and largest multi-institutional research park, and established venture capital community, Philadelphia is a natural fit for VFA. In addition to our original five cities, Detroit, New Orleans, Providence, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas, the Class of 2013 is excited to have the opportunity to hit the ground running as the first Philadelphia Fellows.

For companies in Philadelphia interested in hiring a VFA Fellow, please fill out our company application form.

VFA Update: New Fellows, Summer Celebration, and a VFA Book

Dear VFA Friends and Supporters:

 
It's been an exciting spring here at Venture for America, from new Fellows and VFA team members, to our upcoming Summer Celebration and a VFA book in the works. Read on to learn more!

Tickets are now on sale for the 2nd Annual Venture for America Summer Celebration! On May 30th, we will gather leaders in tech, media, finance, and business, including key note speakers Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, and Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post, to celebrate VFA's newest class of Fellows.  





Venture for America Summer Celebration
Thursday May 30th, 2013 
7:00-10:00pm
IAC HQ, 555 W. 18th Street, NYC

Special Guests include:
Arthur Sulzberger, Chairman of the Board for The New York Times
Jennifer Hyman, Co-founder and CEO of Rent the Runway
Bill Ford, CEO of General Atlantic
Dave Gilboa, Co-founder Warby Parker
Bob Safian, Editor-in-Chief of Fast Company
David Tisch, Co-founder of TechStars NY
John Katzman, Founder of 2tor and Princeton Review
Alisa Volkman, Co-founder of Babble.com
and many more.

General Admission tickets go up in price from $250 to $300 on May 1st, so get your tickets todayEvent sponsors include American Express OPEN Forum, Huffington Post, Beam, and Bonobos, among others. 

Buy Tickets Now!
 


Welcome to the Class of 2013

We're thrilled to announce that we have confirmed the Class of 2013, and are set to add 70+ aspiring entrepreneurs to our 40 Fellows who are already living and working in Detroit, New Orleans, Providence, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas.  This inspiring group of young people includes engineers from Johns Hopkins and UPenn, a physics major from Middlebury College who started a bike-room to produce power on campus, a Duke varsity football player who started his own textbook business, a former U.S. Marine, and former employees of Goldman Sachs, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young. 

We look forward to sending Fellows to all five current VFA cities, along with three new cities: Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. It's an impressive group of college seniors and recent grads, and we are excited to see the amazing work these young people undertake on the ground at startups and early-stage companies in cities that need them. 

To see the full list of new additions to VFA's Class of 2013, visit ventureforamerica.org/2013fellows.

 


Join our Team

Venture for America is hiring! We currently have three opportunities available: Recruitment Associate, Director of Development, and Director of Programs. If you or someone you know believes in Venture for America's mission and is looking to join an innovative and rapidly expanding national organization with a vibrant, fun company culture, visit our Careers Page for more information.  

If you're still in school and are looking for ways to get involved with Venture for America before graduating, we are also looking for Campus Ambassadors at colleges and universities around the country. Get the details here: Become a Campus Ambassador.


Smart People Should Build Things

In other exciting news, Harper Collins will be publishing a book, 'Smart People Should Build Things' by VFA's founder Andrew Yang in January 2014!  As the publication date nears, we'll be releasing sneak peaks of the book, which describes the inspiration for VFA and tells the story of our founding.


How Can You Help?

Recently, 2012 Fellow Max Nussenbaum wrote an article for the Huffington Post about his time in Detroit so far working for the startup "Are you a human?" and the opportunities he sees living in a non-traditional city. Check out Max's article "Move Where You Can Matter" to get a first-hand account of how becoming a VFA Fellow can change the perspective and trajectory of recent grads from across the country. 

Below is an excerpt from the application essay of one of our newest Fellows, Charlie Mohn of Georgetown University:

"Growing up in low-income neighborhood in Seattle, Washington, I saw a run-down community turn into a vibrant business district in the course of a decade. This gradual but steady transformation has been the result of one main catalyst: entrepreneurs. If it weren’t for these people who were willing to take a chance on my neighborhood to start their business, my community would still be plagued by the crime and violence that characterized the area in my childhood. Because of this experience, I realized that I wanted to start a business someday that would benefit my local community. 
 
As someone who was interested in entrepreneurship, I always felt that I needed to work in consulting out of college. A few years of helping out large corporations would allow me to develop the skills necessary to start my own business someday. I thought that I needed to ‘make it’ in the corporate world, and then I could turn towards my local community in Seattle. I realize now, however, that with a program like Venture for America, I can make a positive impact right out of college.
 
With Venture for America, I feel that I will be able to build the network that I will need to start my own business, or work in an early stage company. I believe that I will be able to gain skills in sales, marketing and project management. As someone with a finance and consulting background, I would also gain value from learning more about entrepreneurial finance, and the financial strains small businesses face. Finally, I want a first-hand perspective on why an early stage company is or is not successful. With Venture for America, I will develop the skills that will someday allow me to start a company that benefits immigrant communities in Seattle."

 
We’re excited to give Charlie and dozens of other young entrepreneurs like him the opportunity to get the first hand experience they need to one day go on to build businesses and create jobs in places where they can truly make an impact.

We would like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who has been with us since the beginning and joined along the way. To donate and help support our newest class of Fellows, visit ventureforamerica.org/donate. 

We're looking forward to an exciting year, and don't forget to get your tickets to the upcoming Summer Celebration before it's too late! 
 

All the Best,
 
The VFA Team 
 

Fellow Spotlight: Melanie Friedrichs, Andera

b9yxr5JwlFbRkLhN-4HCwOcDsPlW_7l57TJplXFUCzsName: Melanie Friedrichs

Hometown: Bethesda, MD

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University: Brown University ’12

City: Providence, RI

Anaylst, Andera

What initially attracted you to Venture for America?

I was doing research on “social enterprise ecosystem builders,” organizations that help small companies with social missions succeed, for the social enterprise non-profit that I interned for the summer before my senior year. VFA didn’t know it yet, but they fit right in. Combine an interest in social enterprise with an interest in cities, and a slightly anti-establishment approach to business, and you’ve got a match made in heaven.

What is the best part of being a VFA Fellow?

The network, hands down. All the Providence Fellows live together, and my roommates are great guys. Love hearing about the startups other Fellows are working for and the fun things they’re doing in their cities. Plus VFA has helped us plug into the local entrepreneurship scene, which in a city Providence’s size, is small enough to be a community.

What does Andera do?

We make account opening and lending solutions for banks and credit unions. Translation: if you decided to apply for a checking account online at all but the 5 largest US banks, there is a roughly 25% chance that you would be using our system.

What do you do on a typical day at work?

I’m the webinar-whitepaper-blogger-tweeter-mass-emailer-salesforce-report-and-dashboard-builder girl. Essentially I’m the public voice of Andera (although I often speak under pseudonyms) and I generate about 50 financial institution leads a month. When I was brought on, my mission was to establish Andera as a thought leader in the financial technology space, easier said than done, especially when you’re a 22 year old with no experience in finance or technology.

What’s your favorite thing about Providence?

The history. (Founded in the 1636 by Roger Williams, go religious exile!) The character. (Was very poor in the 1970s, we simply couldn’t afford the fashionable concrete architecture!) The size. (Big enough to host a party, but small enough to know the guests!)

What do you hope to accomplish in your time with VFA?

I want to help Providence grow through entrepeneurship, even if my only contribution is as a warm body at networking events. (Every interaction counts!) Mainly I want to learn; about startups, about financial technology (it’s a fascinating space), and about fragile urban entrepreneurship ecosystems.

Dan Gilbert’s Quest to Remake Detroit

In the efforts to revitalize the motor city, CEO of Quicken Loans Dan Gilbert is at the forefront, financing “one of the most ambitious privately financed urban reclamation projects in American history.”

14gilbert-ss-slide-E5JT-articleLargeThe New York Times recently published a feature about Dan Gilbert and his work in Detroit, and reported that the billionaire has already spent about $1 billion acquiring real estate with plans to “activate the streets”. With about 80 small companies having moved in to buildings owned by his real estate company, Bedrock, Gilbert seeks to “turn downtown into a high-tech hub, where young entrepreneurs both live and work.” Check out the full article about Gilbert and Detroit’s struggle over the past several decades.

Venture for America is proud to have its Fellows living in Detroit, becoming ingrained in the city’s revitalization efforts everyday. Already, VFA has Fellows working for Detroit Venture Partners, the venture capital firm investing in Detroit startups where Dan Gilbert is a partner, along with a handful of DVP’s portfolio companies including Are you a Human? and Quikly, among others.

Just last month, 2012 VFA Fellow Max Nussenbaum of “Are you a human?” wrote an article for the Huffington Post called “Move Where You Can Matter”, where he talks about his experience living in Detroit and extols the opportunities available there for young people and entrepreneurs.

Check out the video below for a glimpse inside Gilbert’s M@dison Building, which houses Detroit Venture Parters along with many other startups. We look forward to sending even more Fellows to Detroit in 2013!

DETROIT VENTURE PARTNERS from Hendrickson Video on Vimeo.

Started from the Bottom Now We’re Here: Maslow and Careers

By Mike Tarullo, VP of Corporate Development

(originally published on Huffington Post)

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needsWhen I was 22 and graduating from college, there were a couple paths to take.

The first path was to follow my dreams, a dangerous idea because the dreams of a 22-year-old are pretty underdeveloped. Yet, this is what our baby boomer parents often tell us to do. David Brooks does the subject a great deal of justice in an op ed in which he explains, “Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life.” Young people are often guilty of deciding on our passions in a vacuum and it’s no wonder with the cacophony of “follow your dreams” reinforcement we receive.

To me, it’s sort of how great novelists aren’t very often great until their midlife, when they’ve seen enough of the world and its inhabitants to write about them with art and perspective. The dreams of my collegiate career and that of many others are only slightly more substantial than being a football player or an astronaut. The novel I would write at 22 would have protagonists with the depth of the Hardy Boys; in a couple decades I could produce something more nuanced (hopefully).

Many promising young people I interact with tell me they’re hell-bent on doing something that’s good for the environment, or that they want to revolutionize education, or work in health and wellness. These are useful callings, but in many young people they are passions born from analysis, not experience. They have been told to do something that they love, and have selected something from a fairly limited worldview that seems lovable. What most young people do is look at the outputs of an industry and say, “that one,” rather than look at what one’s day to day would actually look like. There is a remarkable lack of transparency across all career paths as to what you actually do all day, and when it’s demystified, working to save education or the environment might not be as stimulating or high potential as one thinks.

The second path was to follow my peers. There are places with brightly-lit roads to guide you there, undeniably attractive promises of advancement, prestigious firms, piles of cash, and whatnot. Many people take this bottom-up path, viewing your career as a series of steps to climb. It’s a much more practical path than the first, and rather a strong start out of the gate in some respects, though it occasionally leaves one wanting in the self-actualization department. Often, these young people promise themselves that they’ll be successful first, and do something they love later. However, if you’re over 30, you might have noticed that the majority of your friends are still doing some permutation of what they decided to all those years ago – unfortunately, the same incentives that draw you to that brightly lit road are fairly good at keeping you on it. I, seemingly blind to everything around me, was not offered any of these incentives, and thus “resisted” the siren’s call.

There’s nothing wrong with this second path; it’s definitely the most stable choice, and has generally good returns for the first four tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy (the 3rd tier might be an independent variable, but that’s a blog post for someone else). For many people, it’s a great choice, and the presence of a clear target (e.g. your boss’s job) makes it easier to achieve.

These two paths seem different, but they have something in common. Both treat your career as something you create, linear steps that can be considered in advance and charted for optimal efficiency. However, careers in your 20′s aren’t that deterministic anymore. Stable jobs aren’t so stable, brightly-lit tracks are subject to culling of the herd at each level (law, banking, etc. are necessarily pyramids), and opportunities come from the periphery as often as the direction you’re pointing (source: that often-quoted “7 career changes in your lifetime” statistic, which even if its actually only 3 or so, is still a boatload of career changes).

So if the bottom-up, step-by-step approach isn’t for you, what approach should you take to your first couple jobs? I think there’s a third path: follow the headroom. The common thread I’ve found among people who are happy in their early-career jobs are that they’re challenged and encouraged to grow. If every time you evaluate an opportunity, you strip away the externalities, like perceived prestige, “mission,” industry, or even money (to an extent), what you’ll be left with is what you actually think of the opportunity. It’s a challenging intellectual exercise, but I think it’s worth it. Prestige, mission, industry, and money are ways to get you to focus on something other than what you’ll actually be doing every day.

The most important things in a workplace for a young person? Finding a team that you’ll be excited to work with every day, and a boss that will give you the headroom to grow and expand your capabilities. Who cares what industry, or what the name of the company is, or even what they’re paying you at first? Too many of us, I think. That’s why people wind up trying to switch jobs all the time – maybe if they had more prestige, or $20k more, or worked in education instead of engineering. These are externalities. They cannot save you from yourself, and they won’t motivate you to do good work.

I’m hoping this is happening for me: I’m working in talent/staffing, a field in which I definitely had no interest at age 22. I got there by doing a couple dead-end jobs in politics and marketing that sounded cooler, and had cooler clients. Unsatisfied, I bailed to the unsexiest company I found, which paid me half my previous salary, but where the founder seemed like he would give me the most opportunity to grow. A couple much more interesting years later, I took the same approach to getting the job I have now: strip away the externalities, look for headroom.

The top of Maslow’s pyramid looks an awful lot like an ideal job, to me: creativity, problem solving, spontaneity, morality. If you’re really engaged in creative problem solving that makes you feel good, the following will happen:

  1. Esteem – people will respect you for being a good problem solver.
  2. Belonging – your self-confidence and happiness brings you the right kind of friends and significant other.
  3. Safety – you’re good at what you do because it engages you; you’ll get rewarded for it.

So you see, I don’t think we need to abandon the idea of doing what we love, just re-imagine what it means to find our way there. When it comes to careers, Maslow might have it backwards.

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It’s Never Too Young to Start Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

Pic 4 LAST WEEK, NEW ORLEANS ENTREPRENEUR CHRIS SCHULTZ VISITED KIPP CENTRAL CITY SCHOOL IN NEW ORLEANS TO TAKE PART IN THE STARTUP EFFECT, A NON-PROFIT STARTED BY FOUR VFA FELLOWS. NOW, CO-FOUNDERS MIKE MAYER AND BILLY SCHRERO ARE TEACHING ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN MIDDLE SCHOOLS TO EMPOWER YOUTH WITH THE NECESSARY TOOLS TO THINK INDEPENDENTLY, PROACTIVELY, AND CREATIVELY, RESULTING IN INNOVATION AND VALUE CREATION.

SCHULTZ, WHO HAS CO-FOUNDED LAUNCH PAD & FLATSTACK, AND IS CURRENTLY LAUNCHING A NEW VENTURE CALLED NIKO NIKO, INVESTS IN NEW ORLEANS COMPANIES THROUGH VOODOO VENTURES. BASED ON HIS SUCCESS LAUNCHING COMPANIES, HE HAS TAKEN AN INTEREST IN MENTORING OTHER ENTREPRENEURS, WHICH LED HIM TO BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE STARTUP EFFECT.

READ ON TO HEAR MORE ABOUT CHRIS’S EXPERIENCE HANGING OUT WITH THE STARTUP EFFECT KIDS AND THE WORK MIKE AND BILLY ARE DOING IN NEW ORLEANS. ULTIMATELY, THEY HOPE TO SPUR ENTREPRENEURIAL THOUGHT WHERE IT MATTERS MOST – IN THE MINDS OF THE YOUTH IN THESE GROWING CITIES WHERE VFA FELLOWS ARE PLACED.


By Chris Schultz, Co-founder of LaunchPad & Flatstack in New Orleans (Originally published in Huffington Post)

“Who wants fireballs going out, and who wants her shooting flames?” Lionel asked.

The hands went up for fireballs, and Lionel spun around the flame out of the trumpet arms on Fiona Flames, the new character that he prototyped in real-time the ideas being generated by the class of 7th and 8th graders at KIPP Central City in New Orleans.

Pic 1We were in front of this eager group thanks to a new program called Startup Effect, launched by newcomers to New Orleans, Billy Schrero & Mike Mayer, two Venture for America Fellows working with startups in the city.

Startup Effect is an after-school program designed to expose middle school students to real-world startups and inspire them to “Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!” the call and response mantra that Schrero and Mayer shout like coaches during the fast-paced afternoon session.

Lionel Milton is the creator of Mardi Brah, an iPhone football skills game set in the streets of New Orleans, and he had come on this day to get real product feedback from the students who were, in fact, the target audience for the game. The Mardi Brah challenge was prototyping and the students had been taught the importance of “play & refine” and once you design something, you have to test and evolve. The week prior, they had designed a stick figure drawing of a new character for Mardi Brah, and Lionel was here to turn it into a real character in the game, right before their eyes.

Pic 7

Lionel took the prototype the students had created and sketched the female character before digitalizing it and putting it up on a giant screen where the students could provide input and watch the prototyping process. The kids were mesmerized as Lionel constructed Tutti based on their input, carefully running through color choices and adding details like a hair bow and getting her eyes just so. By the time we got to the fireballs coming out of the trumpet-arms, the students had seen their vision executed and the prototype was ready for the game.

Startup Effect is a powerful new program on many levels. The students at KIPP Central City are being exposed to real companies and learning cutting edge startup thinking, and getting started early. The mantra keeps reminding the students that they have the opportunity to do anything they want, they just have to work at it.

Schrero and Mayer are going beyond their full-time positions as Venture for America Fellows with Staff Insight and Federated Sample in New Orleans. They’ve taken it to another level and decided to make an impact beyond just working hard and helping those companies succeed. They have build a program in Startup Effect that will positively impact students in New Orleans and is scalable across Venture for America cities.

It’s a virtuous cycle of paying it forward, and we’re fortunate to have Venture for America & Startup Effect in New Orleans.

Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!

It’s Never Too Young to Start Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

Pic 4 LAST WEEK, NEW ORLEANS ENTREPRENEUR CHRIS SCHULTZ VISITED KIPP CENTRAL CITY SCHOOL IN NEW ORLEANS TO TAKE PART IN THE STARTUP EFFECT, A NON-PROFIT STARTED BY FOUR VFA FELLOWS. NOW, CO-FOUNDERS MIKE MAYER AND BILLY SCHRERO ARE TEACHING ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN MIDDLE SCHOOLS TO EMPOWER YOUTH WITH THE NECESSARY TOOLS TO THINK INDEPENDENTLY, PROACTIVELY, AND CREATIVELY, RESULTING IN INNOVATION AND VALUE CREATION.

SCHULTZ, WHO HAS CO-FOUNDED LAUNCH PAD & FLATSTACK, AND IS CURRENTLY LAUNCHING A NEW VENTURE CALLED NIKO NIKO, INVESTS IN NEW ORLEANS COMPANIES THROUGH VOODOO VENTURES. BASED ON HIS SUCCESS LAUNCHING COMPANIES, HE HAS TAKEN AN INTEREST IN MENTORING OTHER ENTREPRENEURS, WHICH LED HIM TO BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE STARTUP EFFECT.

READ ON TO HEAR MORE ABOUT CHRIS’S EXPERIENCE HANGING OUT WITH THE STARTUP EFFECT KIDS AND THE WORK MIKE AND BILLY ARE DOING IN NEW ORLEANS. ULTIMATELY, THEY HOPE TO SPUR ENTREPRENEURIAL THOUGHT WHERE IT MATTERS MOST – IN THE MINDS OF THE YOUTH IN THESE GROWING CITIES WHERE VFA FELLOWS ARE PLACED.


By Chris Schultz, Co-founder of LaunchPad & Flatstack in New Orleans (Originally published in Huffington Post)

“Who wants fireballs going out, and who wants her shooting flames?” Lionel asked.

The hands went up for fireballs, and Lionel spun around the flame out of the trumpet arms on Fiona Flames, the new character that he prototyped in real-time the ideas being generated by the class of 7th and 8th graders at KIPP Central City in New Orleans.

Pic 1We were in front of this eager group thanks to a new program called Startup Effect, launched by newcomers to New Orleans, Billy Schrero & Mike Mayer, two Venture for America Fellows working with startups in the city.

Startup Effect is an after-school program designed to expose middle school students to real-world startups and inspire them to “Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!” the call and response mantra that Schrero and Mayer shout like coaches during the fast-paced afternoon session.

Lionel Milton is the creator of Mardi Brah, an iPhone football skills game set in the streets of New Orleans, and he had come on this day to get real product feedback from the students who were, in fact, the target audience for the game. The Mardi Brah challenge was prototyping and the students had been taught the importance of “play & refine” and once you design something, you have to test and evolve. The week prior, they had designed a stick figure drawing of a new character for Mardi Brah, and Lionel was here to turn it into a real character in the game, right before their eyes.

Pic 7

Lionel took the prototype the students had created and sketched the female character before digitalizing it and putting it up on a giant screen where the students could provide input and watch the prototyping process. The kids were mesmerized as Lionel constructed Tutti based on their input, carefully running through color choices and adding details like a hair bow and getting her eyes just so. By the time we got to the fireballs coming out of the trumpet-arms, the students had seen their vision executed and the prototype was ready for the game.

Startup Effect is a powerful new program on many levels. The students at KIPP Central City are being exposed to real companies and learning cutting edge startup thinking, and getting started early. The mantra keeps reminding the students that they have the opportunity to do anything they want, they just have to work at it.

Schrero and Mayer are going beyond their full-time positions as Venture for America Fellows with Staff Insight and Federated Sample in New Orleans. They’ve taken it to another level and decided to make an impact beyond just working hard and helping those companies succeed. They have build a program in Startup Effect that will positively impact students in New Orleans and is scalable across Venture for America cities.

It’s a virtuous cycle of paying it forward, and we’re fortunate to have Venture for America & Startup Effect in New Orleans.

Work Smart! Act Now! & Dream Big!