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Beyond the Pitch

Calling All Startups: Venture for America (VFA) Fellows Want to Work for Columbus Entrepreneurs

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Venture for America (VFA) presents a unique opportunity for Columbus entrepreneurs and startup companies.

Columbus was approved this year as one of four new VFA cities, which means that we have access to the 2014 crop of VFA fellows—amazingly talented college and university graduates who are seeking opportunities to work in startup companies for the next two years at the below market rate of $38,000.

“From a startup’s perspective, we get top talent out of top universities and pay half price,” said Ray Shealy, serial entrepreneur and investor in SafeWhite and TicketFire.

Shealy has hired the first two Columbus VFA fellows, Ada Sierraalta and Dillon Myers, to work in these businesses.

“These VFA fellows have the entrepreneurial spirit. They want to be entrepreneurs. They want to learn, get into the gritty details, make the plays, and grow the business,” Shealy said.

For readers who aren’t yet familiar with VFA, here’s the top line.

VFA recruits the best and brightest college graduates to work for two years at emerging startups and early stage companies in 12 lower cost cities—including Columbus (also Detroit, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and others).

Modeled after Teach for America, Venture for America has the goal of generating 100,000 new US jobs by 2025 by helping growth companies succeed while training top graduates to become business builders and job creators.

As any seasoned entrepreneur knows, it takes talented people to make a startup grow.

“You win with people,” Shealy says. “Recruiting talented people from VFA into an early stage organization will help any company scale. When you are fortunate to have someone like Ada or Dillon, full of youth, energy, intelligence, ambition and with a willingness to learn and to be coached, well it is just great. As the business grows they typically become a key member of the management team and a leader in the company.”

With the VFA salary rate that ranges from $33,000 to $38,000 per year, Shealy says, “It’s not a matter of how you can afford them; it’s a matter, if you are an entrepreneur, of how can you not afford them. If you are a growth company and planning for success, this is a huge opportunity. It’s a no brainer.”

With VFA, the fellows will be able to make decisions and have influence.

“At the early stage every move is critical,” Shealy said. “Once the company gets a little larger, one out of every 20 employees can have that kind of impact, but it’s not like the impact of being employee number one or two. The VFA fellows will have that kind of influence right out of college and they seem to like that.”

Seven VFA fellows have interviewed here.

“This interest demonstrates the health of our startup community. That combined with the attractiveness of living and working in Central Ohio puts us on a par with any other location in the United States,” Shealy said. “We have a lot of talent and great ideas around here, and putting these fellows to work in our startup community will only increase those assets.”

It’s easy for interested startups to contact VFA and apply.

VFA develops relationships with each startup, usually through on-site visits and referrals. In Columbus, TechColumbus is managing the VFA process with the involvement of regional entrepreneurs and investment capital firms.

VFA matches each fellow with several companies for interviews. The interview process in underway. Fellows begin work in August.

“VFA has put Columbus on the national radar,” said Mike McCann, TechColumbus director of strategic ventures. McCann is managing TechColumbus’s lead of the Columbus VFA initiative.

“We are having a great response from fellows interested in coming to Columbus and joining our entrepreneurial community,” McCann said. “We would love to have more startups on the VFA company list for 2014 and beyond. I encourage any interested startup to contact me.”

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