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New Program Lures Young Entrepreneurs to Troubled Cities

Last Updated Jul 25, 2011 7:21 AM EDT

When it comes time for promising grads to pick a place to look for their first job and put down tentative roots, some cities obviously have more appeal than others. The hustle of New York or brainy buzz of the Bay Area naturally attract talented young people. But what could induce bright grads to less celebrated cities like Providence, Rhode Island or Detroit, Michigan that are in need of an injection of youthful optimism and energy? (Though in all fairness to Detroit, the NY Times recently reported a surprisingly vibrant youth scene in the rusty city).

A new non-profit has an idea. Modeled on successful teacher placement program Teach for America, Venture for America is a new program that aims to place recent grads interested in a career in entrepreneurship with innovative start-ups in less glamorous locales. The goal is a double win for both the grads, who get a crash course in the trenches of a real business, and the communities who benefit from the cultural lift young people bring. Fast Company explains how it works:
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.
With statistics and anecdotal evidence showing that the current generation of young people coming into the workforce is incredibly entrepreneurial and interested in being business owners, and many American cities definitively in need of rejuvenation, the program looks set to address both the needs of grads and of struggling communities.

Plus, there's that whole nasty unemployment crisis that needs addressing. "Our top college graduates are often not heading to innovative start-ups and early stage companies that will generate jobs and produce new industries. In 2010 over 50 percent of Harvard graduates went to work in financial services, management consulting, or to law school," Yang wrote recently on the VFA blog.

If you're interested in finding out more about applying for VFA, or hiring a VFA fellow for your start-up, check out the website.

Read More on BNET: (Image courtesy of Flickr user "CAVE CANEM", CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.