THE BLOG

Restoring the Culture of Achievement

01/21/2013 09:01 am ET | Updated Mar 23, 2013

By Andrew Yang, CEO and Founder of Venture for America

Back when the Venture for America was in its early stages, we drafted a mission statement:

  • To revitalize American cities and communities through entrepreneurship.
  • To enable our best and brightest to create new opportunities for themselves and others.
  • To restore the culture of achievement to include value-creation, risk and reward, and the common good.

Though they're all appropriately ambitious, the third goal is perhaps the most far-reaching, profound and vital to achieving the others and ultimately solving the jobs crisis in America.

To restore the culture of achievement to include value-creation, risk and reward, and the common good.

When I was in college at Brown, I had a general desire for status and achievement. In my case, it led me to law school and a job as a corporate attorney in mergers and acquisitions and banking in New York.

That didn't make me a bad person. I volunteered to do pro bono work as a sign that I was still interested in doing something kind of positive. That was maybe 2 percent of my time. The other 98 percent I was grease on a wheel, helping large transactions happen.

We need transaction attorneys to keep the wheels of commerce turning. But we need more than that.

Our culture of achievement has grown to emphasize visions of success that are, for the most part, fairly predictable. Go to Goldman Sachs/McKinsey/Bain/BCG/Morgan Stanley, then to a top-ranked business school, then back to banking/consulting/private equity/a name-brand tech company. Or in the legal realm, go from law school to top firm to partner or in-house at an investment firm. Live in New York or SF.

People who head down these roads are generally very smart and hard working. But we need these smart and hard-working people to build businesses around the country as much as we need them to process complex transactions.

Venture for America Board Member Charlie Kroll started his software company as a senior in college with some seed money. He worked for years in relative uncertainty and obscurity. He almost went out of business multiple times, and had to figure out what to say to employees if he couldn't make payroll. Now, a decade later, his company, Andera is thriving, with 85 employees in Providence. Jen Medbery is building Kickboard, an education tech company in New Orleans, that is making teachers' lives better and more efficient and is hiring right now. Jennifer Baird is the CEO of Accio Energy in Detroit, which is making more efficient wind energy. These are people who took on significant personal risk in order to build businesses that deliver real value and create jobs.

We have our Fellows and applicants agree to the following statements as part of the Venture for America application process:

1. I see my professional pursuits and my career as a moral choice that indicates my values.

2. I appreciate those who assume personal risks in order to build a company or pursue a common good.

3. I believe that actions are the proper measure of one's accomplishments.

4. I believe that creating value and opportunities for myself and others is an important aspect of professional success.

5. I believe that one's professional conduct is a reflection of personal character, and will always strive to act accordingly.

These statements likely represented something of a 'check the box' for most applicants. But our Fellows are actually demonstrating these values through their actions. They are dedicating the first portion of their careers to building businesses in parts of the country (Detroit, New Orleans, Providence, Las Vegas, Cincinnati) that could use an economic boost. Most of them turned down far more lucrative offers. They're taking a risk in that the company environments they are working in and joining are uncertain. The goal is that most of them over time will become the kind of job creators and business leaders that the country needs.

We need to redefine achievement to include these qualities. We need more intelligent risk-takers and value-creators who see their communities reflected in the work they do. Venture for America seeks to solve the jobs crisis by cultivating a new generation of business builders and job creators, and we need your help.

This year, we have 40 fellows living and working in Detroit, New Orleans, Providence, Las Vegas and Cincinnati at various startup companies, with 80 more Fellows and 2-3 more cities to be added in 2013. Already, four of our Fellows have founded a non-profit organization called The StartUp Effect, which teaches entrepreneurship in middle schools in New Orleans and Detroit.

Our immediate goal is to help create 100,000 new U.S. jobs by 2025. We believe that the best way to accomplish this is to get more of our best and brightest building businesses in Detroit, Las Vegas, and around the country. If you feel that this is a cause worth supporting, please contribute to Venture for America and keep up with our organization's progress. We're looking forward to a huge year in 2013.