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VFA Encourages Entrepreneurs

New Program Launches to Provide Other Postgraduate Options

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, November 13, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Teach for America has matched 33,000 recent college graduates with teaching positions in low-income schools since its inception 11 years ago. Now, Venture for America (VFA) hopes to do the same thing with a different kind of college graduate.

"The first step for many college graduates is not directly in the start-up world," said Andrew Yang, founder and president of VFA. "It's toward a more established company or professional services environment. I think right now students are groping for an alternative professionally."

That alternative comes in the form of VFA, which hopes to create 100,000 jobs by 2015 by recruiting recent college graduates, or "fellows," to work at start-up companies in low cost cities like New Orleans, Detroit, and Providence for two years. After its inaugural year, VFA hopes to expand to Cincinnati and Las Vegas.

The organization will officially launch this summer. Yang hopes to place 50 fellows in start-up businesses and has received 1,080 applications, 10 of which are from Boston College, since VFA started accepting applications in August. According to its website, VFA fellows will train at VFA's Training Institute at Brown University prior to their placement, receive a salary up to $38,000, and participate in lectures, assignments, and other enrichment activities over the course of their two-year placement.

While most of the companies VFA has partnered with are technological in nature, Yang stresses that anyone with a passion for entrepreneurship and innovation can find an opportunity through VFA. "We're looking to generate United States jobs so we're looking for companies that could conceivably hire lots of people even after the fellow is placed," Yang said. "Those companies tend to be innovative and have a tech bent…even if you are an internet company, you need a very smart econ or history major to help you build a sales channel or develop your social media."

According to a recent study by Dunn & Bradstreet, the number of small businesses in the U.S. has actually grown since the beginning of the recession. The study estimates that there were about 23 million small businesses in the U.S. as of 2010, "the highest percentage of startups in more than a decade." For VFA, this news means that there are now many businesses looking to hire Yang's "best and brightest."

"I started a dot com during the first bubble and saw just how difficult it was to start a company from the ground up," Yang said. "I was always looking for very talented, enterprising young people to hire."

Now, he thinks other businesses will be looking to do the same thing. Companies that have already pledged to partner with VFA include Audiosocket, a company that licenses independent music for use in videos, ads, and games, and Drop the Chalk, a company that strives to create technologies that will improve learning and teaching experiences in the classroom.

After fellows' two-year placements are over, Yang hopes that many of them will be hired for more permanent positions by the companies they worked with. Those that are not – or who choose to take a different path – may end up starting businesses of their own, also helping to create jobs in America.

But Yang stresses that while job creation is a major goal of VFA, providing choices and opportunities for graduates is just as important. "Our goal is to make it so that seniors from national universities like Boston College are able to have genuine choices," he said. "Right now we think … that for too many college seniors there are very default paths that aren't actually being affirmatively chosen. We want people to be able to more carefully consider their first step, because what people do from places like BC is important for everyone nationally."

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