Schools and startups in economically challenged areas share a similar problem: a difficulty in attracting and retaining young talent. Teach For America has worked for decades toward fixing the education issue by placing top-notch college graduates in struggling schools. Venture For America, a nonprofit that launched this week, aims to do the same thing–but for startups.
Like Teach For America, VFA will bring promising college graduates to work in underserved communities for at least two years. Startups that focus on up-and-coming industries (i.e. education innovation, energy, biotechnology) will be offered a VFA fellow for a salary of $32,000 to $38,000 annually. At the end of the two years, the companies can opt to hire fellows under new terms.
Venture For America already has a number of companies who have expressed interest in hiring VFA fellows, including an independent music licensing startup in New Orleans, an energy management company in Providence, and early-stage VC firm Detroit Venture Partners. “There is an emphasis on companies that have the capacity to grow,” says Andrew Yang, VFA founder and president (and former entrepreneur).
The 2012 class of VFA fellows will go through a rigorous application process, which will include submitting peer and faculty recommendations, business plan submissions, and case studies. Accepted fellows will undergo a five-week entrepreneurial boot camp at Brown University before heading off to their respective assignments.
Yang believes that many students will want to stay at their assignments even after the initial two-year period. “These fellows are going to end up in the midst of a really exciting
ecosystem and they’re all going to have access to all the entrepreneurs in
the region,” he says. And unlike recent graduates working in startup-heavy areas like Silicon Valley, the VFA fellows will find themselves “at the forefront much earlier on.”
For the first year, Yang anticipates 5,000 applicants. That’s a small amount compared to Teach For America’s 46,000 applicants, but the latter organization has been around for 20 years. And VFA is already planning on expanding to new cities–Yang is currently in talks with Newark, NJ.
“The primary driver [for applicants] will be the desire to get into startups and learn how to build businesses,” he explains. “It’s not easy to find that experience out of college.”