March 25, 2023

Start: Starting a Teach for America for Entrepreneurs

Andrew Yang thinks Venture for America can create 100,000 jobs by 2025.Courtesy of Venture for America.Andrew Yang thinks Venture for America can create 100,000 jobs by 2025.


The adventure of new ventures.

Each spring, well-heeled recruiters from financial and consulting firms lay siege to college campuses. They wine and dine the best and brightest students, siphoning future leaders off the top of the talent pool.

How can start-up founders compete?

A serial entrepreneur, Andrew Yang, thinks he has the answer. Venture for America, a nonprofit he founded this summer, recruits college seniors to spend two years after graduation at start-ups in struggling cities. For the inaugural class of 2012, he expects to place about 50 fellows at renewable energy, biotech and Internet ventures in Detroit, New Orleans and Providence, R.I.

“People think college seniors are deciding what they want to do based on native desire or affinity, but that’s not the case at all. Organizations spend millions of dollars to recruit them,” said Mr. Yang, a start-up veteran and most recently the president of a test-prep company, Manhattan GMAT, which Kaplan Inc. acquired at the end of 2009. “If we want to see our young people do things to help get the country back on its feet, we have to make it as easy to go work at start-ups in these cities as it is to work at investment and consulting firms.”

Venture for America is inspired by Teach for America, the staggeringly popular initiative that places top college grads in low-income schools. Nearly 48,000 applicants, including 12 percent of Ivy League seniors, vied for that program’s 5,200 slots this year, according to its administrators. “They have become one of the most singularly successful talent recruiting organizations in the world,” Mr. Yang said admiringly.

So far, Venture for America has attracted strong partners. Brown University is providing classroom, dormitory and dining hall space in June for the fellows’ five-week introductory boot camp. “Philanthropic, entrepreneurial types,” Mr. Yang said, have committed a combined $500,000 in funding, half of which has materialized. (IAC, which hosted the program’s kickoff this summer, donated $25,000.) The organization’s roster of board members includes Doug Ulman, chief executive of the Livestrong Foundation; Tom Ryan, chief executive of Threadless; Murray Low, director of Columbia Business School’s entrepreneurship center; David Tisch, managing director of TechStars in New York City; and Andrew Weissman, a partner at Union Square Ventures.

College seniors are responding, too. Venture for America has received more than 700 applications since it began accepting them in August. This month, the organization has embarked on a whistle-stop recruitment tour, with information sessions at Princeton, Harvard, Duke, Dartmouth, Stanford and other schools.

Salaries will range from $32,000 to $38,000 plus health insurance, provided by the start-ups that employ fellows. And if a fledgling company tanks in the middle of a fellow’s two-year commitment, that fellow will be placed elsewhere, an effort to mitigate the risk of failure inherent to start-ups. Companies that have committed to hire fellows so far include Drop the Chalk, an education company based in New Orleans; Federated Sample, an online sampling start-up, also in New Orleans; and NuLabel Technologies, an adhesive and printer technology start-up in Providence. At the end of each two-year program, the top-performing fellow will win $100,000 in seed money.

Venture for America’s ultimate goal is ambitious: creating 100,000 jobs by 2025.

“We believe that job generation is a social good,” said Mr. Yang, who sees the program’s creating jobs in two ways. “First, we’re going to supply promising companies with the talent that it takes for them to succeed and get to the next level.” Second? “We’re going to socialize and train a generation of our top college graduates to themselves become business builders and job creators. That’s how we think you get to the 100,000 jobs.”

What do you think? Would you hire a Venture for America fellow? Is this a good way to create jobs? And how can the program avoid Teach for America’s biggest pitfall: retaining talent when the two-year placement period ends?

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