Andrew Yang: Venture for America is a nonprofit fellowship program for college graduates who want to learn how to build businesses and create opportunities, become entrepreneurs really. What we do is we recruit top grads. We bring them to a training camp for five weeks at Brown University, my alma mater. We bring in entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists, McKenzie, IDEO to help train them in what it takes to build a company. And then they work in startup companies in Detroit, New Orleans, Providence, Cincinnati and eight other U.S. cities for two years. And at the end of those two years they’ll have a sense of how these businesses grow and develop.
They’ll be working with a more experienced entrepreneur during that time. At the end of the two years they can either stay at that company as a manager and leader or they can even start their own companies. And we have a set of angel investors and a seed fund to invest in them. So you can think of it as a two year extended entrepreneur apprenticeship program that has the immediate effect of helping companies expand and hire more people and hopefully create more jobs. Our immediate goal as an organization is to help create 100,000 new U.S. jobs by 2025 by helping these companies grow and also training the next generation of entrepreneurs.
So there are six default paths for young smart people in the U.S. today – financial services, management/consulting, law school, medical school, graduate school/academia and Teach for America. So these are six things and these six things will comprise between 50 and 70 percent of university graduates from any national university in the U.S. I mean they really add up very quickly.
They also tend to concentrate our talent in one of six geographies – New York City, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago and L.A. So in essence we have a system that’s driving our most talented graduates to one of six activities in one of six places. And over the long term this is not a great thing for the economy, especially if you consider that so many of these graduates are heading to professional services contexts that exist to serve essentially large companies that after they get big enough to a point where they can hire an investment banker, consulting firm or a law firm. So the metaphor I use is that it’s like we’re investing in tons of layers of icing and forgetting to bake the cake. What we need to do is we need to send more talent to early stage businesses that can grow and prosper, expand, hire people, maybe even create hundreds of new jobs. And then if they become mature then they can hire professional services firms to help them expand in various ways. But the first order of business is helping the firms come into being and to grow.
36 percent of this year’s Venture for America class was comprised of women. And we think that’s a good start but not nearly where it needs to be. We need to get it up to 51 percent to mirror the population and also the college graduate ratio obviously. You know, I think people respond very powerfully to role models. Like they see examples, they want to see someone who’s like them. And so there are some fellows that are women that come to us and say hey, I’d prefer a female led company. And so when we go out to the startup landscape in these cities and you look around, I mean the proportion of companies that right now – not even in tech but just, you know, in startups and growth companies in these cities – unfortunately it’s certainly well below 51 percent at least of the companies that we see and interact with.
And so, you know, we see there’s a lot of work to do at every level. But we think a lot of it does begin as women looking up and saying, "Hey, who are the people that are doing this that are like me?" And I think that’s one reason why someone like Sheryl Sandberg has set such a huge powerful example because now, you know, women look up and see that there are leaders in these industries that are women that are doing amazing things.
I think there’s certainly a desire among this generation to have a positive impact to build something new. And I see this when I interact with college students around the country that they very badly want that sort of option. But when the rubber hits the road it’s really about who’s making them a job offer, when. And so if you’re a senior in college and you’re looking for a job, it’s all about who’s extending you a genuine path and who’s recruiting you, who’s making you feel wanted, who can you take home to your parents, figuratively speaking, and say, "Hey, mom, guess what? I’ve got an offer from Deloitte." Then your parents will be very, very happy. So those are the variables that really matter. Like people talk about the, you know, the wants and needs of the generation which are obviously very important.
But it’s equally important what are the genuine choices they’re being presented with. And those things are a function of resources. So what Venture for America does is we try and provide a genuine path toward startups and growth companies in Detroit and New Orleans and other parts of the country that might not be top of mind for a recent college graduate really by extending some of the same resources. So that if you join VFA you’ll end up with some of the same network and community and training and support that many of these young people are seeking through other means.
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton