Fellowship Helps Graduates Launch Business Careers
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 11:11
Correction: Upon publication, Roanne Lee (MSB '12) was incorrectly labeled as a member of VFA's second fellowship class. However, Lee was a member of VFA's first fellowship class.
Venture for America, a two-year entrepreneurial fellowship program founded last summer by former start-up executive Andrew Yang, aims to expand its presence at Georgetown in the coming semester.
VFA recruits top college graduates to work at promising start-up companies for two-year periods in low-cost cities.
The organization aims to create 100,000 new jobs in the United States by 2025 and to increase the amount of hands-on company development experience for college graduates who are interested in engineering, computer science and business.
“My experience in VFA has differed greatly from those of fellow graduates, but I think that’s really benefited me,” Roanne Lee (MSB ’12), a member of the program’s first fellowship class, said. Lee works as an analyst at Cintrifuse, a new business initiative in Cincinnati, Ohio, that offers investment support, mentorship and workspace. She said that the experience has taught her more than a traditional job in business or finance would have.
“I went with the choice without the security of a job path that was already paved for me, and that pushed me to develop my independent skills to a much higher degree,” she said. “I’m welcomed into meetings with executives and leaders of companies and treated as a valuable member of the work force here, and I’m not sure that’s something most recent graduates find in corporate cultures.”
To apply for the fellowship, students must complete an online application that includes essays, a resume and two letters of recommendation before going through an extensive three-round interview process.
Once accepted into the program, fellows participate in a company-graduate matching process. New fellows speak with VFA employees to determine regional preference, areas of interest and personal skills. Once matched, fellows go through a formal interview with the selected company to ensure proper fit. Finally, fellows must attend a five-week boot camp at Brown University where they learn how to run a company.
Major business leaders, including, David Tisch, co-founder of TechStars, and Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, act as mentors during these business training programs.
“[The boot camp] provided me with technical skills, a better understanding of commodity training and a distinct vision of creating a culture of value within the start-up I was assigned to,” Lee said. “That really prepared me for all that I do now,”
Though the program is only in its second year, the application process has already become highly competitive. Only ten percent of the applicants were accepted into the fellowship class of 2012, according to Georgetown’s VFA Campus Ambassador Timothy Raftis (COL ’14).
Raftis, who was inspired to become a campus ambassador after attending an information session last month, is enthusiastic about the fellowship’s mission.
“I hadn’t even heard of the program until three weeks ago, but when I heard Andrew Yang present the goals and the vision of the program, I was sold,” he said. “I wasn’t a senior, so I couldn’t apply for the fellowship, but I knew I had to become a part of it, so I applied to be an ambassador.”
As campus ambassador, Raftis’s main job involves raising awareness about VFA’s presence on campus through email campaigns, Facebook and hanging flyers. He said he is confident that Georgetown students will take advantage of the program.
“You get to actually create something. You take ownership of something and are able to see the direct effects of your work,” Raftis said. “The attention and experience you can get in small businesses is very valuable and not something graduates can immediately get in consulting or finance, [where] you have to go through bureaucracy of company.”
Raftis also pointed out the networking opportunities the fellowship provides.
“Fellows are building relationships with mentors right away, which can help them tremendously later on in their careers,” Raftis said. “They also forge bonds with peer VFA fellows, and out of that, you get a network of great young talent just as passionate about entrepreneurship as you.”
VFA and its partner companies pay fellows an annual salary that ranges from $33,000 to $38,000 for their work and grant $100,000 investments to top fellows who successfully start businesses at the end of their two-year term.
VFA Director of Corporate Development Mike Tarullo, who is responsible for choosing VFA’s partner companies, seeks out promising companies in cities that are supportive of VFA’s mission. Currently, VFA has 49 partner companies in Providence, R.I., Cincinnati, Ohio, Las Vegas, Nev., New Haven, Conn., New Orleans, La., and Detroit, Mich., but plans to expand its presence to two to four more cities in the next year.