02/19/2013 12:36 pm ET Updated Apr 21, 2013

A Better Path to Jobs

By Steven Mazur, 2013 Venture for America Fellow

On June 1, 2009, General Motors filed for bankruptcy. One week later I graduated from high school. I hail from Metro Detroit, where the Big Three reliably operated and employed a substantial part of my community for generations. When the auto industry collapsed, Metro Detroit began to collapse too. I spent my senior year of high school watching friends come to class wondering if their parents would sit down for dinner that night with a pink slip. Many did, and I saw firsthand how joblessness weakens communities. I learned that when jobs disappear, innovation, education, growth, and happiness vanish.

So I did what Detroiters before me had done too often: I left.

Fortunate enough to receive a good scholarship, I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina to attend N.C. State University. My plan from the beginning had been conventional: study engineering, work for a large chemical, pharmaceutical, or a consulting firm, gain valuable "real-world experience," and maybe one day start a company of my own in an attractive city like New York or Chicago. I had originally wanted to work in Detroit, and I loved the startups I worked with in college, but I assumed there was only one appropriate way to begin a career.

In my eyes, everything was going according to plan. I spent my semesters taking engineering and business classes and my summers working for big companies.

But then I found Venture for America and I realized I could ignore the traditional path and pursue a more meaningful one.

Venture for America's goal is threefold:
  • To revitalize American cities and communities through entrepreneurship.
  • To enable America's best college graduates to create new opportunities for themselves and others.
  • To redefine achievement to include value creation, risk and reward, and recognition of the common good.

VFA allows top graduates to spend two years working with a startup in an emerging city such as New Orleans, Las Vegas, or Detroit. The VFA Fellows develop the networks, training, and experiences they need to grow their own successful companies. As Fellows continue to expand their partner companies or start their own ventures, VFA expects to create 100,000 new jobs in the targeted cities by 2025.

Before I discovered Venture for America, I had two major misperceptions about my post-graduation options:
  1. I didn't think a recent graduate could work for a startup.

    In reality, however, startups provide the perfect job for graduates. Startup employees are typically given huge responsibilities from day one, and their work directly affects the successes and failures of a company. Most projects are short-term and employees must often tackle problems outside of their expertise, teaching diverse sets of skills.

    With their limited resources, startups struggle to find talent, and talent struggles to find the startups. VFA bridges the gap, connecting motivated individuals with established startups.

  2. I didn't think I could launch a successful career in Detroit.

    Detroit is one of many struggling cities, and struggling cities fail to attract top talent. But Detroit is among a number of cities with emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems. In this environment, small companies make big differences. The communities want to see startups succeed and heavily support them. The atmosphere is collaborative, not competitive, and very conducive to growth and fresh ideas.
Every year, Venture for America will send dozens of future leaders to the cities that need them most. With so much talent pursuing entrepreneurship, VFA will help rebuild the economy. So now, thanks to VFA, I am doing what not enough graduates have done: I'm going to Detroit. I encourage you to join us today and help rebuild America one job at a time.

Steven Mazur is a member of Venture for America's Class of 2013 and a senior at North Carolina State University majoring in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Through NC State's Engineering Entrepreneurs Program, Steven started a tele-medical company that efficiently connects emergency physicians to specialists. If you would like to support Steven and his peers who will join companies in Detroit, New Orleans, and others, please support VFA in the JobRaising Challenge today.