University News

Five students receive fellowships with Venture for America

The undergraduates selected will work in cities such as Detroit and New Orleans

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, April 18, 2013

Five Brown students were selected to join the fellowship class of 2013 of Venture for America, a non-profit organization that connects new college graduates with two-year positions helping entrepreneurial startups in economically disadvantaged cities.

The students ­— Moss Amer ’13, Zoe Chaves ’13, Jonathan Hills ’13, Avery Houser ’12.5 and Mehves Tangun ’13 — were selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants with a 15 percent acceptance rate, wrote VFA’s Communications and Development Manager Megan Hurlburt in an email to The Herald. VFA launched in 2011 and already has three Brown graduates from the class of 2012 working for the organization.

Amer, Chaves, Hills and Tangun were selected this spring to join the program. Houser said he was selected in December.

The new fellows will spend two years working for small startups in cities including Detroit, New Orleans and Providence. VFA reassigns fellows to new ventures if they work at companies that collapse during their tenure, and the group’s organizing model is based on Teach for America, according to the VFA website. Four of the newly selected fellows said they have yet to be matched with the companies for which they will work, while Houser said he has been matched with Teespring, a Providence-based custom apparel company.

The program looks for students with “adaptive excellence and demonstrated success” in different settings, like academics or extracurricular activities, said VFA founder Andrew Yang ’96.

Tangun said she was attracted to VFA because it combines the “exclusivity and comfort” of management consulting with the exciting pace of an emerging startup. She added that she decided to apply for VFA after realizing finance and consulting were a “mold that didn’t fit” her professional aspirations. Tangun said she loves the “adrenaline of pitching” business ideas in different entrepreneurship classes and competitions, and she is on a semifinalist team in the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition.

Tangun, who said she was at home in Turkey for spring break when she found out that she received the fellowship, added that the acceptance injected a sense of relief into her time at home. “It was a week-long celebration in Istanbul,” she said.

Amer, who is concentrating in Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations, said he has only previously written business plans in academic settings. Though Amer said he may return to academia, he is excited about the opportunity to spend two years exploring the private sector. Amer said he fell in love with VFA’s mission to revitalize local economies, adding that he wants to “create actual value” instead of working at a large firm that only cares about “maximizing efficiency.”

Chaves works as a campus coordinator for Health Leads Providence and at the Swearer Center for Public Service. Yang said Chaves is “action-oriented” and that he was impressed with her large involvement in the Providence community.

Houser said he spent a summer working for a startup ketchup company, which helped him realize he likes working with small businesses. He added that he is looking forward to learning the process of helping businesses grow and define their missions.

Hills, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Furniture Design from the Rhode Island School of Design, is a “natural builder” who can apply his skills as a designer and engineer, Yang said.

Adjunct Lecturer in Engineering Danny Warshay ’87 said he taught Amer and Tangun in ENGN 1010: “The Entrepreneurial Process: Innovation in Practice” and advised both of them to apply for VFA. Young entrepreneurs can have a large impact if they strike a “balance between being assertive and humble,” he said.

Yang said he hopes the accepted students remain in the startup industry after their fellowships. “Working in startups is addictive,” he said. “You get used to seeing the impact of what you’re doing day to day, and you feel like you’re building something.”

Chaves said she is unsure of what she wants to do after her fellowship but hopes she will use her new innovative skills, adding that she is a “big believer” in young people’s ability to “add value” to their lives from two-year commitments like VFA’s fellowship program.

“We hope they get a more finely developed sense of what it takes to build an impactful organization in the real world,” Yang said, adding that VFA is looking for ways to promote entrepreneurship opportunities for its fellows after they finish they finish the program. American Express has already committed $50,000 to a seed fund for VFA fellows’ potential ideas, he said.

“Brown is a great training ground to entrepreneurship,” Yang said. “When Brown graduates hit the real world, they have an instinct towards exploration.”

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