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Venture for America: Entrepreneurial Fellowships for College Grads, with CEO Andrew Yang

Venture for America is a non-profit fellowship program that grooms the next generation of American entrepreneurs by placing them in startup apprenticeships.

Andrew Yangis the Founder and CEO of Venture for America (VFA), a non-profit fellowship program that grooms the next generation of American entrepreneurs by placing college graduates in apprentice positions at startups in emerging cities such as Detroit, New Orleans, and Providence. Yang is also the author of the bookSmart People Should Build Things, which was published earlier this year by HarperBusiness. He recently visited Big Think to explain the book’s core ideas, discuss VFA’s mission, and explain how his organization operates.

In the interview above, Yang describes how college graduates more often than not follow one of just six career paths: financial services, management consulting, law school, medical school, graduate school/academia, and Teach for America. On top of that, graduates tend to cluster in only six major metropolitan areas: New York City, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, and L.A. 

Yang explains why this is a problem:

"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."

Venture for America strives to reverse this trend. The journey of a VFA recruit begins with a 5-week training camp at Brown University. There, the recent grads are mentored by investors, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and representatives from innovation firms. Upon the camp's completion, each recruit is placed in a startup based in a city such as Detroit, Cincinnati, or Baltimore. The goal is for the experience to benefit fledgling companies as well as the young fellows:

"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."

Job creation is a major piece of Yang's vision for Venture for America. His hope is that VFA can help create 100,000 new U.S. jobs by 2025. These new positions would be the result of the partner companies' growth as well as the experience VFA alums gain on starting new businesses.

Another topic discussed by Yang is getting women more involved with Venture for America. This past year, 36% of the VFA class was comprised of women. Yang sees that as a good start but wants to see that figure rise in the near future:

"We need to get it up to 51 percent to mirror the population and the college graduate ratio. 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 below 51 percent, at least of the companies that we see and interact with."

Yang cites Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as an example of a powerful woman who has inspired young female entrepreneurs to follow her lead. He says more advocates like her are needed.

For more from Andrew Yang, check out his Big Think interview here.


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