VFA Matches College Grads With Start-ups

Sean Lane, BC ’12, thought he was headed for a career in advertising. He envisioned himself working for Hill Holliday, one of the agencies he interned with during his time at Boston College. After searching through one of BC’s online job databases, however, Lane found something new in Venture for America (VFA).

VFA is based on the nationally recognized Teach for America organization. The non-profit, now in its second year, matches recent college graduates and graduate students with new start-up companies. The graduates, known as fellows, go through a five-week training session in the summer. The fellows go to work with a start-up in Cincinnati, Detroit, Las Vegas, New Orleans, or Providence, for two years, learning fundamentals of entrepreneurship.

According to VFA’s website, these cities do not see a large influx of college graduates. The program plans to expand to cities such as Baltimore, Cleveland, and New Haven, and expand its next class by about 100 fellows.

“I was intrigued by the whole start-up culture and all of the different stuff that goes with entrepreneurship,” Lane said. “That’s always kind of been something that’s interested me.”

He started a summer hockey clinic for middle school students in his hometown of Holden, Mass. after his freshman year at BC, and sees the clinic as his first foray into entrepreneurship.

After earning one of 40 spots in VFA’s inaugural class, Lane began a series of interviews with the program’s partner companies to find the best match for him. He chose to work with Swipely, a start-up in Providence, R.I., that helps businesses better understand their customers, market to them, and increase revenue.

“It was a way for me to use the skills that I already have and also learn more,” said Lane. “They’ve been really great at showing me all the different aspects of the company and giving me a comprehensive understanding of how the company works.”

Lane works with a small group of people as a partner success manager, acting as a liaison between Swipely and their clients.

Start-ups, by their very nature, have a much different working environment than larger companies. This aspect of what Lane calls the “start-up culture” allows VFA fellows to make meaningful connections to their employers and the entrepreneurial field as a whole.

“It’s different if you work at a company with 500 people and you’re sitting in a cubicle all day, whereas in a startup environment you really need to be able to interact with people and get to know them, understand them on a level that’s going to make you successful,” said Lane.

In addition to the people at Swipely and VFA’s partner start-ups, Lane said that the organizers and other people involved in VFA make the program truly unique.

“At any point in time there are 39 other kids in the country that are doing the same thing as me,” said Lane. “Just having that network of people that not only are going through the same thing as you, the support network that we’re building is great.”

Lane encouraged graduates who are willing to work hard, hustle, and get things done to apply for VFA’s next class before this year’s February deadline.

Although Lane has been working at Swipely for just four months, he has already decided that he would like to continue working with start-ups or other entrepreneurial ventures after his fellowship is over.

At the end of a class’s two-year involvement with VFA, the organization offers $100,000 in seed investment money to the highest performing fellow. The money can be used to support the fellow’s host company, or to start a new company of his or her own.

“I think that once you get bitten by the start-up bug, it’s kind of a hard one to shake,” Lane said. “The whole culture and the attitude and feel around start-ups is pretty contagious.”


December 3, 2012