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CSOM Student Joins VFA

Heights Staff

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 23:02

Max Walters, CSOM ’13, was recently offered a fellowship with Venture for America, a competitive two-year program that offers a pathway to startups and entrepreneurship right out of school for recent college grads.

Max will join Sean Lane, BC ’12, as the second student from Boston College selected to join the ranks of this unique program.

Venture for America (VFA) is modeled after Teach For America. The organization trains the best and brightest college graduates and sends them to early-stage startup companies in lower-cost cities. Students spend two years growing those companies and learning how to become entrepreneurs.

“Sending recent college grads to low cost cities where local economies are struggling but on the rebound and developing a mutually beneficial relationship between the firms and the cities, that’s really the ‘for America’ part,” Walters said.

One of the main goals of VFA is to restore the culture of achievement in America to include value-creation, risk and reward, and the common good.

For Walters and a lot of other students in VFA, the “for America” part is one of the most powerful aspects of the program.

“What’s powerful about VFA is that it is designed to make our country better in a time when we critically need it,” Walters said. “With the recent economic deterioration and rise of pessimism, it is refreshing to be involved in something that creates optimism.”
VFA’s mission of hard work and genuine ideas has earned the company a place in the national spotlight.

Last month, founder and president of VFA Andrew Yang was one of 12 past White House Champions of Change who were invited to meet President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C.

A little over a year ago, the White House created the Champions of Change program to recognize Americans across the country who are doing extraordinary work in their communities.

Yang had the opportunity to sit down with the president and explain how Venture For America works.

While the “for America” part of the program is designed to stimulate economies nationwide, the “venture” part of VFA is where the ideas and minds of talented individuals are put to work in a rather unconventional way.

Many college students, particularly business students, are looking for different ways to make the transition from college into the real world in a way that will inspire them and put them on a path to developing their own ideas.

“Kids think they have these certain paths that they are supposed to follow after they graduate college—go to grad school, law school, or work at some big name firm,” Lane said. “Increasingly though, kids are realizing that if they go to these smaller cities with smaller markets and smaller teams, they have the ability to make an impact on day one.”
“Everyone in the program is exposed to early hands-on experience in a protected way,” Walters said.

The organization places students with startups that look like they are on the brink of taking off. The firms then take the students completely under their wing, though VFA remains a constant thread throughout the entire process.

Lane was placed with a company called Swipley, based in Providence, RI. The company’s mission is to help local merchants succeed by democratizing tools and powerful data that were once reserved only for big businesses.

“So far, my year and a half with Swipley has been the prototypical startup experience,” Lane said. “Six months ago we had about 26 employees, now we have 40—the company is growing quickly.”
Swipley was started in 2009 and was named one of “America’s Most Promising Companies” by Forbes. The company was the first in Rhode Island to ever be named to the Forbes List.

Lane said that his biggest challenge at the firm was learning to “learn on the go.”
“They kind of throw you into the fire and you have to figure things out for yourself,” Lane said. “The credit card processing industry was not exactly something I ever took a class on at BC.”
Both Lane and Walters say that BC is beginning to catch the tailwinds of some of the ideas surrounding startups and entrepreneurships.

BC held its first ever “StartUp Fair” this past Monday, which brought some of the best tech startups in Boston to campus.

“I think it’s really cool that BC is moving in that direction, because quite honestly, the entire city of Boston is moving in that direction,” Lane said.

The University also sponsors the Boston College Venture Competition (BCVC), a University wide business plan competition designed to promote and support entrepreneurship.

“Seeing the school encourage startups and entrepreneurship is really great,” Lane said. “I only hope that it will draw more students to new and exciting organizations like VFA.”

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