Alums Who Do Cool Things (and a future career for you): Andrew Yang ‘96, President of Venture for America

Eager overachievers heading into inner-city classrooms – it’s been done.  Eager overachievers heading into some of America’s most struggling cities, including Detroit, New Orleans, and Providence, to create jobs – fresh meat.  Venture for America forges a liaison between college graduates, the start-up community, and distressed economies by placing young fellows in high-unemployment cities.  With the charge of creating organizations and expanding employment infrastructure, the organization hopes to create 100,000 domestic jobs by 2025.  The organization president, Andrew Yang ’96 (economics concentrator), took some time to speak with BlogDH.

What inspired you to start Venture for America?  How did you get the idea?  I’ve encountered hundreds of enterprising recent college graduates who wanted to get into start-ups but didn’t know where to start.  Yet, when I was running a company I was always looking to hire good young talent and had a hard time finding it.  I realized that there was a structural issue around start-up recruiting – if we made it easier to work for start-ups and provided a support system, many more graduates would take advantage of the opportunity. More from Andrew after the jump.

How did you develop the model for VFA? Do you have any association with Wendy Kopp or Teach for America?  We’re certainly inspired by what Teach for America has accomplished.  Several of my recent colleagues were Teach for America corps members, and I saw what a profound impact TFA had on their careers.  One of our Board members is the former President of Teach for America, but we don’t have any official relationship beyond that.

Can you tell us more about the inaugural Training Institute in Summer 2012 at Brown?  It lasts for 5 weeks, and over 30 experienced venture capitalists and entrepreneurs have already agreed to speak at the Training Institute.  We’re focused on conveying concrete skills that will allow the Fellows to contribute at a start-up from Day 1.  It will be quite intense.

What support and training are given to VFA fellows prior to starting their jobs?  In addition to the Training Institute, VFA Fellows will be part of a strong community – each will be living in a city with 10 or more other Fellows.  Programming continues throughout the 2 years, as the Fellows will meet online every two weeks to discuss their experiences and various assigned readings.  Also, there will be an in-person monthly event in each city hosted by a different entrepreneur or company.

Do applicants need any prior experience?  Applicants need the talent, drive, and skills to be useful to an early stage company, but work experience isn’t required.

How did you go about executing this vision and recruiting financial support as well as assembling a board of directors?  I’m very fortunate in that, having been an entrepreneur for the last 11 years, I’d developed a network that helped get VFA off the ground.  Also, people find the mission of Venture for America compelling, as everyone wants to see our economy generate more jobs and help start-up companies succeed.

How did you pick your target cities?  We were drawn to cities that we believe represent the new American frontier, where there are entrepreneurs who are developing businesses that had an opportunity to grow.  I obviously had an attachment to Providence, given my time at Brown.

What advice do you have for student entrepreneurs interested in a start-up?  In my experience, the best way to put yourself in position to start a company is to support another more established entrepreneur first.  You’ll get a lot of exposure, gain some skills, and begin building a network that will help you if and when you decide to go out on your own.

What was your favorite class at Brown?  Engineering 09 with Professor Hazeltine was up there!  I also enjoyed Labor Economics and Ethics and Public Policy with Professor Cheit. I learned a lot in those classes.

Is there anything else you went to tell us, either about your experience at Brown or after graduation, or your company, Venture for America?   In my view, Brown is a natural training ground for entrepreneurship given its emphasis on intellectual freedom and creativity.  Several of my friends from Brown started companies at various points.  I hope that Venture for America provides a runway for at least a handful of Brown graduates to fulfill their start-up aspirations.

Andrew Yang will be on campus Tuesday, September 13 for two events.  He will be at a Brown Career Services Info Session from 12-1:30pm (@ Career Services on Angell St.) and speaking to The Entrepreneurship Program and Brown Investment Group from 5-6pm (location TBD).

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