06/12/2013 02:43 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2013

Crowdfunding the Fellows

It's hard to get started as a young entrepreneur -- often much harder than one would ever realize. For me, it took a failed company and years of experience as a startup executive before I hit a point where I could effectively run a company. I started Venture for America in order to give our talented young people a more well-lit runway to becoming a successful builder.

At Venture for America, we want our Fellows to experience actually running something - it's the best way to learn. Happily, many are already taking on the challenge by starting something themselves. Fellows are teaching entrepreneurship in middle schools, trying to simplify meeting people at networking events, starting an effort to improve national politics, creating an affordable Cincinnati sandwich shop, and more.

Last week at the VFA Summer Celebration, we kicked off the first crowdfunding effort to support Fellow startup initiatives. We're working with our friends at American Express OPEN Forum to give the Fellows access to the $25,000 Innovation Fund, in addition to the money they raise, for the most popular ideas between now and July 8th. This is the first of many initiatives to get the Fellows the support they need to launch their own ventures.

This campaign, hosted by the crowdfunding platform RocketHub stems from a conversation I had with Scott Roen of American Express last summer in Providence at our first Training Camp. I told him we'd set aside $100,000 in seed money for the Fellows to start their own projects. Scott said, "Why not use crowdfunding?" And now, months later and thanks to Scott, that's exactly what we're doing.

VFA had our first experience with crowdfunding when we participated in the JobRaising Challenge through Huffington Post earlier this year. It was, frankly, a fair amount of work - there's a lot more involved than just putting up a description online. But the event galvanized our supporters and led to a grant from the Skoll Foundation. And we raised over $300,000 to support our work. As with most things, you get out what you put in.

Visit today to show your support for the VFA Fellows's startup ideas. Let's help young entrepreneurs create new opportunities for themselves and others.