Fellow Spotlight: Melanie Friedrichs, Andera

b9yxr5JwlFbRkLhN-4HCwOcDsPlW_7l57TJplXFUCzsName: Melanie Friedrichs

Hometown: Bethesda, MD


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.

Fellow Spotlight: Bryant Yik, MoFuse

Name: Bryant Yik

Hometown: Union City, NJ

University: University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School ’12

Director of Client Operations,  MoFuse, LLC
Providence, RI

What initially attracted you to Venture for America?

I’ve always loved the process of building something; to see how small pieces can come together and make a complete object. After I took a business course in high school, my love for building things eventually evolved into the idea of building companies. So when VFA came along, I thought it was the best choice for me (just short of creating my own company). I saw VFA as transition between college and actually starting my own business in that as a Fellow, I am not only contributing to MoFuse, but learning about the challenges startups like MoFuse have.

What is the best part of being a VFA Fellow?

The best part is VFA helping us integrate into the local entrepreneurial community. In Providence, VFA introduced us to the local startup incubator, BetaSpring. Every week, we are invited to BetaSpring’s mentor discussions where they have an entrepreneur or business leader to speak to its portfolio company founders over dinner and drinks.  It is a great way for us to socialize with the city’s entrepreneurs and receive advice and talk about ideas.

What does MoFuse do?

MoFuse provides a platform so that small and medium sized businesses can create mobile websites. We offer do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions for business owners to create their own sites and also custom site build services.

What do you do on a typical day at work?

The benefit of working for a startup is that I can experience a little bit of everything. I am currently managing a project that involves coordinating our internal team with and external consulting firm and our client. I also manage the relationship and expectation of another client, and I am working on a retention plan for lost clients. So my typical day usually consists of internal meetings, phone calls with clients, or analyzing customer data.

What’s your favorite thing about Providence?

Providence has a great quality of offering the same amenities of a larger city, but on a much smaller scale. There are great restaurants to eat at and events to attend to which are all within a small proximity and without the crowdedness that comes with being in a city like New York.

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

After spending two years in the trenches with a startup, I hope to gain a lot of insights on running a company. Not only am I learning from my company’s successes and strengths, but also from its failures and weaknesses. With this, I hope to one day make a great and lasting company.

Fellow Spotlight: Sean Pennino, Teespring

Name: Sean Pennino

Hometown: Rochester, NY

University: University of Notre Dame ’11, Brown University ‘12

Business Development, Teespring
Providence, RI


What initially attracted you to Venture for America?

VFA seemed liked the best way to get the startup experience without compromising job security or personal finances, the normal risks faced by entrepreneurs.  I also loved the prospect of being sent to a city where I can make a difference.

What is the best part of being a VFA fellow?

Knowing that whenever other fellows are killing it, it makes me look better.

What does Teespring  do?

Think Kickstarter meets Custom Ink.  Meets awesome.  Teespring will someday be a place where you can crowdfund anything, but right now you can use our site to crowdfund custom apparel.  The benefit over Kickstarter is that we actually make and distribute the product, instead of just giving you the money raised.  Bring us an idea and supporters and we’ll do the rest.

What do you do on a typical day at work?

I wear many hats and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I spend most of the day generating leads and working with current clients, but I have done anything from writing code that increases the sales team’s efficiency to graphic design.  I’ve also recently gotten into SEM.

What’s your favorite thing about Providence?:

Providence has the culture of a big city and the comforts of a small town.  It’s a very affordable city with plenty to do year-round.

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

I’d like to bring Teespring to global dominance and create at least 1000 new jobs in Providence.  I should also make sure to meet the love of my life before then so I know she’s not just into my fame.

VFA Company Spotlight- NuLabel Technologies

Venture for America Company Spotlight with NuLabel Technologies located in Providence, Rhode Island:

NuLabel Technologies, Inc. is an adhesive and printer hardware technology company developing innovative label platforms to help companies cut cost and reduce waste. NuLabel has developed patent pending liner-free label technology that uses an activateable adhesive to eliminate the need for the liner.

One of the founders of Nulabel, Max Winograd, tells us more:

1. Tell us about Nulabel Technologies.

NuLabel began as a Brown University engineering project dedicated to solving the “liner problem.” As the two-semester project came to a close, Ben Lux – a polymer chemist, Mike Woods – an engineer, and Max Winograd – a political science major, saw a chance to start NuLabel and invent an innovative solution that changes the way the world uses labels. NuLabel participated in Betaspring’s inaugural program in 2009. After Betaspring, NuLabel worked out of the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RICIE). In the summer and fall of 2010, NuLabel raised over $1.5 Million from angel investors. In March 2011, NuLabel relocated to a 4,000 SF R&D Facility in the Knowledge District in Providence and has since hired 10 new full time employees to accelerate the development of its liner-free label solution. Since then, NuLabel closed a second round of financing and is gearing up for field tests with some of the largest end users of labels in early 2012.

2. Name a fun fact about NuLabel Technologies.

We have a bunch: Every Tuesday during the spring, summer, and fall is BBQ Tuesday where we grill lunch for the whole team in our courtyard. During the winter, every Tuesday is Bagel Tuesday. We screened Office Space in honor of Labor Day Weekend, and team members surf with our accountant bright and early on the weekends. Our mantras are: “It Takes What It Takes”; “Fly Low, Fly Far”; “Prove Yourself Wrong”; and “Have a Vision. Be Demanding.”

3. What does your ideal Venture Fellow look like?

Our team consists of very entrepreneurial engineers and chemists. We are looking for problem solvers who thrive under the challenge of developing an innovative technology to solve a problem that has persisted for 80 years. For a mechanical engineer, a background in Solidworks and designing electro-mechanical systems are the most vital skills. For an electrical engineer, a background in Altium and circuit board layout and assembly are the most vital skills. And for a chemist or chemical engineer, a background in polymer chemistry, adhesives, coatings, and polymer analysis are great experiences to have.


4. What is the daily office routine like?

Our lab is grand central station at 7:30AM, but we don’t have an official start time. We’re here early and work late, and we bring in dinner for anyone that stays past 6:30PM. The adhesive and engineering teams have weekly rundown meetings to go through projects and discuss any updates on product development.

 To find out more about Nulabel Technologies:

Web: http://www.nulabeltechnologies.com/
Twitter: @NuLabel

VFA Company Spotlight- Andera

Venture for America Company Spotlight with Andera, located in Providence, Rhode Island:

Andera is the leader in online customer acquisition solutions for financial institutions. Its suite of products and services includes online account opening, consumer marketing, fraud prevention and an in-house software development kit.

Andera also has the largest network of core processor providers, third-party data services, and financial institutions connected to deliver more profitable customers to banks and credit unions.

President and CEO of Andera, Charlie Kroll, tells us more:

1. Tell us about Andera.

Andera is a technology company that helps financial institutions acquire new customers. The company is venture backed with $13MM raised, 95 employees, offices in Providence, New York, and San Francisco, and more than 500 bank and credit union customers nationwide. The company was founded while I was still an undergrad at Brown University in 2000, originally as a web development firm. Over time, the company evolved into a SaaS provider of account opening and funding applications for financial institutions, and today is focused on changing banks’ retail experience through multi-channel origination technology that takes the hassle (and paper) out of applying for new accounts or loans.

2. Name a fun fact about Andera.

We often enjoy free sodas and juices, Friday bagels, regular catered all-hands meetings, a keg with awesome craft beers, and quarterly hack-a-thons where folks stay up all night implementing crazy ideas.

3. What does your ideal Venture Fellow look like?

Creative, challenges the status quo, thrives in an unstructured environment, demonstrated evidence of achievement, and is able to get stuff done. We hire for talent and culture, and care about these things way more than experience or what degree you’ve got.

4. What does the daily office routine look like?

Even though Andera is 10 years old, it still feels like a start-up. The culture is informal and fun, with smart people who enjoy making a difference and changing an industry. As mentioned above, there’s always fun things going on like regular catered all-hands meetings  and quarterly hack-a-thons. We’re also about to move into a larger space in Providence with lots of whiteboards, huddle rooms, open space, natural light, lounge areas, WiFi, ping pong, and air hockey. In short, the kind of place we wanted to work in.

To find out more about Andera:

Web: http://www.andera.com
FB: https://www.facebook.com/AnderaInc
Twitter: @AnderaInc

VFA Company Spotlight- VCharge

Venture for America Company Spotlight with VCharge, located in Providence, Rhode Island:

VCharge uses decentralized, market-based principles to enable residential electric heaters, electric cars, and other transactive loads with embedded storage to engage in rapid demand response. VCharge technology brings real value to utilities, grid operators, and end users today and into the future.

VCharge technology fundamentally changes how: 1. Electric grid operators and utilities provide secure, stable, and reliable power; 2. People heat and cool their homes and businesses, and power their vehicles; 3. Renewable energy generators deliver and sell their output.

Vcharge tells us more:

1. Tell us about your company.

The company was formed when Jessica Millar decided to stop teaching math at Brown University and instead start a company that could help make significant renewable energy penetration on the electric grid a reality. Originally planning to develop a distributed system for charging (and discharging) electric vehicle batteries, she soon came to realize that other, more available storage technologies existed that could be controlled immediately. The company joined a pilot program with the New England grid operator (ISO New England) to provide grid services using Electric Thermal Storage heaters.

Jessica also joined up with Dave Durfee, a principal at Bay Computer Associates of Cranston, RI to develop the necessary hardware and software. VCharge put hardware in the field in the winter of 2010, and successfully provided Regulation Service to ISO-NE in March of 2010. 

Meanwhile, on an island in Maine, George Baker was working with the community of Vinalhaven to develop a community wind project. Jessica approached George and offered to help the community by using excess wind energy generated during the winter months to heat people’s homes with electric thermal storage heaters. The project proved very successful, and by July, George had joined Jessica and Dave on the VCharge team.

Since that time, the team has grown to almost 20 people, including employees, subcontractors, and engineers at Bay Computer working on the VCharge SmartBricksTM system. We are installing equipment this winter in Concord MA, E. Stroudsburg PA, and possibly Nova Scotia. We are leading a transformation of the electricity generation, transmission, and distribution system towards what we call Transactive Load; load that can react to what is happening on the grid, and participate in markets for electricity and other grid services.

2. What does your ideal Venture Fellow look like?

We are looking for two types of people. Our operations team is looking for those individuals with a reasonably technical background; a knowledge of the technology and economics of the energy and/or electricity industry is very helpful. People who know the difference between power and energy, and know what a locational marginal price is, are finds for us.

On the technical side, we are looking for coders who have had some intern experience with full cycle software development processes: design, unit testing, code review, etc. The best candidate will relish algorithms and mathematics, will have 3-4 years of experience in C, Python or Java, and an interest in NOSQL databases, Scala, test driven design and networking issues.

3. Provide a fun fact about your company.

We are in the process of planning an annual VCharge technical retreat in Maine, where George owns a summer house. One of the long-term ambitions of the company is to see Maine moved off of oil and onto renewable energy, starting with the islands of Vinalhaven and North Haven where George helped with the financing and permitting of the largest community-owned wind farm on the East Coast.

The younger crowd is wrastling over selecting sporting events to go along with roughly once-a-month company dinners. Suggestions range from ultimate frisbee to a water pong tournament. There is also the question about whether competitive Tetris should count as a sporting event.


This quilt in our office is a mathematical whimsy. It is a rectangle tiled by squares – but with a twist: no two of the squares are exactly the same size. This is a tricky thing to do! The secret behind the quilt is that it is a graphical representation of an electric grid, where each square is a wire of resistance 1 ohm, the height of the square represents how much current flows through it and the width of the square represents the voltage drop. In fact, if the quilt were etched on copper and a voltage was applied across the horizontal edges, this representation would become reality! When Jessica brought the quilt in, she joked that it was a high-security map of transmission lines in Iowa – but we’ve looked into that, and can assure you that in fact the electric graph came from a high school physics textbook.

4. What is your daily office routine like?

Our daily office routine is more of an ebb and flow than a routine. While the principals of the company are in the office almost daily, the consultants and other employees come and go based on the tasks at hand on that given day. Whether our team members are in the office or in the field or working away in Boston, we are all constantly connected via phone and web, therefore allowing us to be as productive as possible from every location. The one constant in our day-to-day operations is our weekly Tuesday requirement that all members be in our Cranston office for the day. This allows us to focus on project management and to collaborate our ideas on a variety of topics.

To find out more about VCharge:

Web: www.vcharge-energy.com

The Brown Daily Herald- Alum offers grads new ventures in Providence

By Ashley Aydin, Staff Writer

Published on: Thursday, September 15, 2011

It’s usually a bad sign when a city finds itself in the company of Detroit and New Orleans — but not always. Providence joins its woebegone sisters in playing host to Venture for America, an entrepreneurship program founded by Andrew Yang ’96.

The program, launched in July, is a nonprofit that seeks to create jobs in economically struggling cities, provide entrepreneurship experience to college graduates and help graduates join start-ups in locations around the country.

“We want to provide a runway for people who have entrepreneurial aspirations and encourage them to fulfill those aspirations,” Yang said.

Venture for America places entrepreneurs in what the organization calls “lower-cost cities” — Detroit, New Orleans and Providence.

These cities represent the “new American frontier,” Yang said. “Each of these cities has a hub for thriving start-ups so that graduates can continue their growth and development,” he said.

Doug Ulman ’99, president and CEO of Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation and a Venture for America advisory board member, said he was moved by Yang’s business model. “He’s focusing on cities that can use the type of influx of youth and excitement,” he said. “I think there are a lot of cities in this country that are not considered hotbeds of entrepreneurial activity. So, there’s so much opportunity for seasoned entrepreneurs to have a huge impact there.”

Yang, who double concentrated in economics and political science, was inspired to start Venture for America when he met Charlie Kroll ’01, president and CEO of Andera, a financial services company.

“I thought if we were to have more talented graduates starting businesses like Charlie, it would great,” Yang said. “That’s what the country needs — more entrepreneurs.”

At Columbia Law School, he “saw a number of bright college grads that went down a particular path that didn’t really fulfill their needs as they hoped or anticipated.” But starting your own company is by no means easy. Yang’s first venture — which he started at 25 — failed. It was difficult starting a company while also focusing on management and professional development, he said.

“It’s hard to get into a start-up when you’re fresh out of school,” Ulman said. Giving young entrepreneurs a “two-year experience in the trenches” will inform their future business ventures.

Venture For America can “help build the bridge between enterprising college grads who want to learn how to be entrepreneurs and start-up businesses that need talent to continue to grow,” Yang said. 

Benefits of the program

Responsibilities of the fellowship include “developing materials, planning and executing placement initiatives, visiting and evaluating prospective start-up companies, interfacing with senior leadership at dozens of start-ups around the country and intensive relationship management,” according to the organization’s website. Venture for America is only hiring 50 fellows in its inaugural year.

“I think that the skills that they can obtain are practical ones,” said Tina Imm ’97, General Manager of Time Inc’s lifestyle group and a member of Venture for America’s entrepreneur board. “In start-ups, you get your hands dirty in a variety of things. You’re the intern getting coffee, and you’re also the CEO making decisions.”

Parker Brown ’12, a public policy concentrator, is interested in pursuing a fellowship after graduation. “You’re working for a start-up, and that can lead to anything,” he said.  

 Brown said Venture for America’s leadership also sparked his interest.

“I really admire the people who head the organization. They’ve done amazing things,” he said.

Brown, who is applying to the program, said he is most interested in using entrepreneurship as a vehicle for innovation.

“Finding more efficient and socially beneficial ways to do things and finding new ways to contribute to society — it’s very personal when you start your venture. I think you’re really invested in what you’re doing,” he said.

Tim Dingman, a fifth-year masters student in electrical engineering, said he first became interested in entrepreneurship while working on the planning committee for Better World by Design, a three-day design conference run by Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students.

“It taught me the performance of distributive innovation,” he said. “Venture for America’s purpose is to funnel people into that network of distributive innovators.”

The fellowship offers a number of benefits to its fellows. Salary includes $50,000 per year plus a bonus of up to $10,000 in the fellow’s first year, as well as medical benefits, a three-week paid vacation and the opportunity to build entrepreneurial experience. Once they have completed their fellowships, fellows can also enter a competition to win $100,000 in seed money for their own ventures.

Entrepreneurship at Brown

With courses like ENGN 0090: “Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations” and an open curriculum, Brown’s academic offerings piqued the entrepreneurial interest of many of Venture for America’s board members.

“I think that Brown in many ways is a fantastic environment for training entrepreneurs,” Yang said. “I may not have gone down this particular path if not for my time at Brown.”

Ulman said Brown is not a university that people think of when start-ups come to mind, but students here are “so creative and innovative, and so many folks from Brown are interested in social change.”

Brown attracts a special type of person, Imm said. “There’s so much talent there,” she said. “You want to be successful and succeed, but not in a cookie-cutter way.” 

Equipped for the future

All of Venture for America’s fellows will be well-positioned to start their own ventures once they have completed the program, Yang said.  

Yang recommended that young entrepreneurs seek out mentors. “You can certainly learn by doing, but it is tremendously helpful to have someone who has gone through it before to tell you what to expect.”

Dingman stressed the importance of networks. “From what I’ve seen and read about and studied, building networks is the best way to build the thing you want,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you have the best credentials in the world. It’s easy for someone to say, ‘Oh, there’s someone else like him out there.’”

Having a strong vision is one of the most important aspects of being an entrepreneur, Imm said. “It’s about patience and persistence, and keeping at your vision,” she said. “You have to be like the energizer bunny and just keep going and going and going.”

VFA Note: Fellows salaries will range from $32,000-38,000 +benefits, instead of “$50,000 per year plus a bonus of up to $10,000 in the fellow’s first year, as well as medical benefits, a three-week paid vacation…” as stated. Also, all fellows participating in the fellowship have the opportunity to be awarded the 100k seed money and will be judged throughout the fellowship experience based on criteria given in advance.