By: Melanie Friedrichs, 2012 Venture for America Fellow
The typical job search at a competitive college inevitably starts with a moment of panic. "Oh god. I'm graduating. What the hell am I going to do?"
A tentative exploration of the career services website then returns a list major corporations offering two- to three-year stints as analysts, associates, or management trainees. Professors, shockingly, speak mainly of research positions and higher degrees. Friends vaguely compare the merits of major metropolises. One day, a classmate in a suit marches by, Case and Point confidently tucked under one arm. Forty applications, 15 interviews, and three legitimate options later, the search is over, and seven times out of 10 the result is a career in consulting, finance, law, or medicine.
The structure of the college job search heavily favors defined career tracks at large corporations. The locations of these corporations, combined with students' desire to live in places that they perceive to be exciting, dynamic, and populated with potential friends, creates a giant brain drain that sucks talent away from America's small towns and small businesses and towards big cities and big business.
Venture for America recruits recent graduates and matches them with early-stage companies in lower cost cities. Their mission is three-fold:
- 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.
To truly understand the organization's value proposition, you first need to understand what the bottom line is for every group involved.
What's In It For Me, the Fellow?
- Security. Venture for America is a safety net for start-up employment. If a Fellow's company fails before two years are up, the program will re-match that Fellow with another company. More importantly, Venture for America reduces what I call "resume risk": the risk that future reviewers will pass over resumes with unrecognizable previous employment. Students know that brand names win interviews, and while "Venture for America" isn't yet as recognizable as an Ivy League college or a major investment bank, it is unusual and evocative enough to garner a second look.
- Training. The two-year fellowship kicks off with a five-week intensive boot camp that I can best describe as a cross between a start-up accelerator program, business school, and summer camp on steroids. The camp mimics the training that large professional services firms provide entry-level employees, but that startups cannot afford. The camp challenges grade-trained graduates to function in unstructured environments, and then formal training continues throughout the program through web seminars, reading lists, and self-improvement challenges.
- Network. I applied to Venture for America because of the security and the training, but I accepted because of the network. There is incredible excitement around this idea, from the staff, Fellows, and companies directly involved, to a larger community of veteran and wannabe entrepreneurs, angel investors, educators, and community leaders. I benefit from the Venture for America network in one way or another every day.
What's In It For Them, the Companies?
- Recruiting. Usually the moment of panic hits college seniors long before start-ups are ready to hire, and seniors prefer a certain job offer in December to an uncertain prospect in April. Venture for America bridges that gap by recruiting on the same timeline as consultants, investment banks and graduate schools, but matching Fellows to companies on a timeline that suits startups.
- Onboarding. Most startups don't have a formal on-boarding process, which unfortunately means that if the employee isn't a perfect fit, it might take them a long time to be productive. Venture for America's training program provides the basic skills needed to survive in a startup, and takes pains to set expectations to be sure Fellows start their employment on the right foot. For startups, Venture for America provides subsidized, outsourced human resources.
- Talent. In structure, Venture for America, like Teach for America, may seem like a pseudo job placement agency. However, since both have the goal of accomplishing a much broader mission, they offer much more than that. VFA attracts the talent, but also vets prospective startup employees in a unique and selective application process, taking into consideration more than just matching skills to a job description. By getting to know each Fellow and startup, they are also able to match based on culture fit, company needs, and the Fellow's potential.
- More Jobs. Venture for America's master plan is to churn out a corps of smart, seasoned entrepreneurs who will each build companies and create jobs. But even if only a fraction of Venture for America fellows become entrepreneurs, the program will succeed. Job creation is not a zero sum game; one more job in Providence does not mean one less in New York. Big cities waste talent with heated competition for a few positions, while small cities starve for qualified employees.
- Stronger Cities. Stronger employees mean stronger companies, and stronger companies mean stronger cities. If done right, Venture for America will create local multiplier effects that stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment, building momentum for recovery and growth. More than that, the program paints traditionally neglected cities like Detroit, Cincinnati and New Orleans as "places to be," not places to run away from.
- Empowered Citizens. The last part of the three-fold Venture for America mission is "to restore the culture of achievement to include value-creation, risk and reward, and the common good." I like to phrase it this way: it's easy to climb a ladder, but it's a lot harder to build one. When most students graduate, they enter into defined structures and pre-established paths that usually end up reinforcing the status quo. To make change, and to create jobs, entrepreneurs need to be able to think outside of the box and take risks. Venture for America gives them the push and the support to do exactly that.
Melanie Friedrichs is a member of Venture for America's Class of 2012 and a graduate of Brown University. Melanie stayed in Providence, RI after graduating to work as a Marketing Coordinator for Venture for America's partner company Andera, an online account opening and lending platform founded by VFA Board Member Charlie Kroll in 2000.