Venture for America Comes to Colgate

Rachelle Ehrman

As the Colgate campus ambassador for Venture for America (VFA), junior Hashim Rainey has started a campaign to raise awareness among Colgate students about the new fellowship program for recent college graduates interested in entrepreneurship.

“Venture for America is modeled off Teach for America… the difference is Venture for America focuses on more entrepreneurial efforts and they work with start-up companies,” Rainey said.

Students selected for the Fellowship would start a five-week training program at Brown University. After that, they will go to a specific start-up company that they work with for two years.

VFA was started in an effort to help small start-up companies get connected to eager students who wanted to go into the business or entrepreneurial fields. These new companies show a lot of potential but have a hard time attracting recent graduates from universities because they lack the capital to do mass recruiting.

“What VFA has been working [on] is that they noticed that all the top graduates from these different schools will go to the same four cities; New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Boston, and they want to spread that talent out,” Rainey said.

The first class of Fellows in 2012 were employed by companies in Detroit, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Providence and Cincinnati.

“The 2013 Fellows are in the existing five cities from last year as well as three expansion cities: Philadelphia, Baltimore and Cleveland,” VFA’s Talent Acquisition and Retention Manager Lauren Gill said. “We’re looking to expand to three or four more cities for the 2014 Fellowship, too.”

Expanding to more cities is not the only way VFA plans to keep growing in coming years.

“In the next five to 10 years, we’ll be dedicating more and more resources to helping our alumni start and grow companies,” Vice President of Corporate Development Mike Tarullo said. “Long-term, VFA is looking to contribute to the creation of a new generation of entrepreneurs and 100,000 U.S. jobs. The best way to achieve those goals is to help our alums get access to capital, talent and networks that can help them succeed.”

These expansions will continue to help thousands of new companies with graduates from around the country, including Colgate.

“We seek applicants who have excelled in a variety of contexts in the past,” Gill said of VFA’s selection process. “We work with a diverse array of start-ups, and the demand for talent ranges from technical to interpersonal to creative, so there’s room for all academic backgrounds and interests.”

Internship experience, extracurriculars, coursework and even athletics are all taken into consideration when picking candidates for positions.

“Students at Colgate can prepare to apply to the Fellowship by identifying their strengths and passions and honing them in a way that is applicable to start-ups,” Gill said. “For example, if you love to write, start a blog. Most start-ups have some sort of blog on their site or need marketing materials and other content written. Whatever your skills are, tailoring them to a business context will make you an outstanding candidate for the Fellowship.”

Many students pause at opportunities like this because of financial concerns, as start-up companies do not often offer recent graduates high salaries. But current VFA Fellow at Turntable Health Josh Levine argues that the program offers alternative motivations for graduates disinterested in the corporate world.

“Too many kids [are] graduating from college and going into finance, consulting, grad school, or TFA, not necessarily because that’s what they really want to do,” Levine said. “It’s not good for the grads who do these jobs because they’re secure and offer an appealing path in certain ways, it’s not good for the national economy when such a tremendous amount of creative energy is bottled up and pushed aside for careers in corporate work.”

“In the short-term, it’s cooled my ambition to be a developer (but not my ambition to improve cities) and led me into healthcare,” Levine said of his unexpected career path. “Long-term, I hope to be involved with many aspects of urban development throughout my career, from healthcare to education, transportation, the criminal justice system, energy systems, real estate development and so on, and VFA has put me in a better position to do that than I possibly could have imagined a couple of years ago. The experiences, skills and community of support I’ve gotten through VFA have definitely transformed my career plans and expectations and opened many doors that wouldn’t exist otherwise.”

“Working together, Fellows have already started a nonprofit that teaches children in underserved communities about entrepreneurship, bought and started to restore an abandoned house in Detroit, proposed the creation of a glass recycling facility in New Orleans and coached a youth hockey team in Providence, to name a few,” Gill said of the hundreds of Fellows who have completed the program in the last couple of years. “We prepare Fellows to be successful, lifelong entrepreneurs. They are set on a path to founding companies that will create jobs and value for themselves and those around them.”

At Colgate, Rainey hopes to bring awareness to campus and future graduates hoping to pursue the entrepreneurial career path.

“What I am mostly doing for right now is just bringing the awareness, because this company is very new,” Rainey said of his plans for VFA at Colgate. “They are trying to focus on getting the word out.”

Rainey says he hopes to continue to raise awareness through email chains and doing Coop tables during the weeks leading up to the December 2 VFA Fellows deadlines.

“I think Colgate students should do this program because I know Colgate students want to have a better sense of purpose for what they do,” Rainey said. “We are one of the few schools that have the brightest minds of our generation; I know that these kids will love to work for a purpose.”

VFA’s mantra echoes desires for young, innovative minds to explore entrepreneurial opportunities.

“At VFA we say, ‘my career is a choice that indicates my values’ – and so I’d urge each Colgate senior to think about how they can forge a path that reflects their values and helps them become the person they want to be,” Tarullo said.

“To me, entrepreneurship is less about ‘business’ than it is about solving problems,” Levine said. “And I think that, maybe above all else, that’s what you learn at a great liberal arts school like Colgate-how to recognize, evaluate, react to and fix problems. Most jobs right out of school will not give you the opportunity to fully flex those muscles, and use them to make an impact right away. I think that for those who want to solve problems and make a dent in the universe, who want to be part of an incredible community, who want to create things and are also open to having an unpredictable life, VFA might be a perfect fit.”

Contact Rachelle Ehrman at [email protected]