University News

Seven seniors score Venture for America fellowships

Backed by safety net of job security, health insurance, fellows to begin work at startups in emerging cities

By
Staff writer
Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Seven University students and one from the Rhode Island School of Design were accepted into the Venture for America Class of 2016. The two-year fellowship program places graduating seniors in startups with the goals of cultivating fellows’ aptitudes for entrepreneurship and jumpstarting the growth of emerging cities.

During the two-year program, fellows are able to work and explore their interests with the assurance of job security, health insurance and other career resources like skills workshops.

The admission process culminated in March. The process includes an online application, a Skype interview and in-person meetings and activities on Selection Day. Fellows are evaluated on their intelligence, character and ability to thrive in a challenging environment, according to the VFA website.

Jocelyn Caster ’16 heard about the program from a roommate and subsequently developed an interest in entrepreneurship and startups. Though she and other fellows are still waiting on their placements, Caster hopes to work in marketing and operations.

“People think of our generation as one that starts rich companies,” Caster said. “But actually, we’re starting less companies than ever before.” She attributed this trend to student debt, which discourages students from taking risks and pursuing their passions. “But right out of school is the best time to take risks,” Caster said.

VFA encourages students to seize that immediate post-graduation opportunity by providing a safety net of 200 company partnerships and a network of fellows.

“I like the idea of doing something different and risky, but not that risky,” Hannah Anokye ’16 said of her post-Brown plans. With VFA, she said, “You have something to fall back on these two years.” Anokye was also attracted to VFA’s plan to place some of the nation’s brightest graduates in emerging cities.

“When you mention them, they’re ‘dangerous’: Detroit, Baltimore, etc.,” she said. “But it’s cool that we’re driving talented people to these places.”

VFA’s mission is also important to Armani Madison ’16, who has prior experience with community organizing and nonprofit work. Ultimately, Madison would like to use the skills he learns from VFA to found his own nonprofit, which would focus on making college education more accessible to low-income students of color. For Madison, VFA is an opportunity to apply both his skills and passion, all while taking “a less prescribed career path.”

“I would encourage like-minded, creative students to apply for VFA,” Madison said. “Don’t feel pressure to go into a prescribed career path. Don’t pigeonhole yourself — see what you’re really interested in.”

Yelitsa Jean-Charles, a student at RISD, sees VFA as “an appealing, amazing opportunity” to pursue her interest in startups.

Jean-Charles has had significant exposure to this field already — she participated in Brown’s Social Innovation Fellowship, starting her own project, Healthy Roots, which aims to promote diversity in toy dolls.

But Jean-Charles primarily considers herself a designer and artist — a background that she hopes will give her a “different perspective” as she approaches key business components like branding and marketing.

In a few words, Jean-Charles said of her decision to apply to VFA, “I wanted to see the real world. I’m ready to work full-time and grow with a great community.”

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