Horace Greeley graduate Grant Steinhauer finished up at Tufts last spring, and instead of taking the corporate route, he landed a fellowship with Venture for America, a nonprofit that trains young entrepreneurs, and works for a startup in New Orleans. “I did the whole corporate internship thing where you feel like a cog in a machine,” Steinhauer said. “And I felt that wasn’t really for me.”
Looking for something “more impactful,” he wandered by a Venture for America booth at a career fair and was prompted to do a little research. He liked what he learned, and applied for a fellowship.
College students apply to Venture for America and go through an interview process like that for any job. “When you get accepted they connect you with startups around the country that are in cities in need of economic revitalization,” Steinhauer explained, such as San Antonio, New Orleans, Baltimore, Cleveland and Detroit. “It’s like an online dating program.”
Each fellow posts a profile with a resume and can indicate interest in factors such as location, size, and field of interest. Startups can then make job offers to fellows that look like good fits. “Technically you’re not guaranteed a job, but there are more startups than fellows,” Steinhauer said.
Fellows then attend a five-week training camp in Detroit over the summer, which besides job preparation, enables the fellows to get to know each other. That helps when it comes to moving to new cities. “Venture for America doesn’t actually help you find housing,” Steinhauer said, explaining that getting to know the 14 other fellows heading to New Orleans meant he had many potential roommates. “I moved to New Orleans with 14 friends.”
That sense of community extends to fellows from other years, who offer a helping hand to newer fellows when they can. The startups are required to pay a minimum salary, which is generally less than what a motivated ambitious college grad would make at, say, a standard corporate career-ladder starting position. But myriad benefits accrue to each fellow that may prove more beneficial on a long-term basis than more money.
First of all, at a startup, “you do everything,” Steinhauer said. Instead of developing a more narrow expertise at a first job, Venture for America fellows experience a broad range of responsibilities. Secondly, the natural ending point of the two-year commitment means that the fellows can be assured of a built-in opportunity to “pivot,” or make a career change. The two years provide “a great organic cutoff,” Steinhauer said. “I didn’t want to become complacent.”
Steinhauer works in New Orleans at Maverick VR, a virtual reality company that helps other companies provide virtual reality experiences at an array of corporate events and trade shows.
Another benefit of a Venture for America fellowship is that if Steinhauer wants to form his own startup after his time at Maverick VR, Venture for America will help him with that, too, through a program they offer fellows called the VFA Accelerator, which gives fellows starting businesses four months in Detroit to work, have access to advisors, and even pitch to investors.
There are a disproportionate amount of Greeley kids who do Venture for America after college. I would be very surprised if there was higher representation from any other high school.
“There are tons of fellow-founded companies,” Steinhauer said. They include Ash & Eire, a fashion company focused on clothing for men 5’8” and under; Aiva, which helps real estate agents with their leads; Cooperative Capital, a private equity fund that helps people pool money for community-focused investments; and The Spoke, which enables users to “search and store recommendations from friends and influencers. ”In this way, Venture for America hopes to have a long term impact on the economies of the cities to which they send fellows.
(As a side note, Venture for America founder Andrew Yang’s ambitions for our country don’t stop there. He’s running for President and already has a website up promoting his campaign to secure the Democratic nomination in 2020. His policies include a universal basic income and Medicare for all. “He’s getting support from young people because he’s very very progressive,” Steinhauer said.)
When he got involved with Venture for America, Steinhauer had an interesting realization. “There are a disproportionate amount of Greeley kids who do Venture for America after college,” Steinhauer said, adding that while he doesn’t have hard statistics on the percentage of participation by Horace Greeley graduates, it seems to him that there are a surprising number, especially since Venture for America recruits from colleges, not high schools. “I would be very surprised if there was higher representation from any other high school.”
Steinhauer said the environment in Chappaqua “creates a really tight-knit sense of community and I consider Chappaqua a really close town.” In this way, he said, growing up in Chappaqua prepares youngsters for the startup environment. In both places, community is key, and being surrounded by hard workers helps each person do his or her best.“You can get a lot of stuff done if you’re surrounded by great people and hard workers,” he said.