Columbus Scores Big with Venture for America

Columbus scores big. In no time at all, the word is out among Venture for America (VFA) fellows: Columbus, Ohio is one fantastic place to become an entrepreneur.

And the word is out among Columbus’ far-sighted entrepreneurs that Venture for America offers a unique opportunity for startups to recruit and hire remarkable talent at well below market rates.

So far, seven VFA fellows have interviewed in Columbus and three have been hired.

TechColumbus initially approached VFA about a year ago to qualify Columbus for the program and now is managing the interview process between the fellows and Columbus startups.

“This program has put Columbus on the national radar,” said Mike McCann, TechColumbus director of strategic ventures. “There is so much interest from fellows that we are looking for a few more companies,” said McCann. “I would encourage early stage companies that are interested in hiring Fellows to contact me right away.”

The first two outstanding VFA fellows have signed up to begin their two-year assignments at SafeWhite and TicketFire, young companies managed by Columbus serial entrepreneur Ray Shealy.

“These fellows have the entrepreneurial spirit,” Shealy said. “They want to be entrepreneurs. They want to learn. All these VFA fellows are highly coachable. If you are a growth company and planning for success hiring one of these fellows is a no brainer.”

Ada Sierraalta, Johns Hopkins graduate, is bitten by the bug.

Ada Sierraalta graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a master’s degree in engineering management. Her curriculum blended engineering with business, entrepreneurship, and marketing. Deloitte and Accenture were heavily recruiting at Hopkins, but Sierraalta was leaning a different way.

“Working on design projects that could actually turn into products inspired me to look for a job in a smaller company,” she said.

Sierraalta met a VFA fellow at a career fair and they talked a bit about VFA. Then, oddly, that same fellow came to speak to Sierraalta’s marketing class.

“It was super weird and I got really lucky,” she said. “I asked more questions, got more personal, and she convinced me to apply. VFA seemed like a perfect fit for what I wanted to do.”

Sierraalta has student loans and at around $38,000 the VFA salary doesn’t come close to what she could make in engineering or consulting. Despite her parents’ concerns, Sierraalta prevailed. She will be employee #2 at SafeWhite beginning in early August.

“This is an opportunity that leads to much bigger things,” she said. “I interviewed in Columbus and had a really great experience. It seemed like such an awesome place to live and work. Once I saw the quantity and quality of the Columbus companies posted on the VFA web site, I just knew that something was definitely going on there. I’m excited to become a part of it.”

Dillon Myers, Washington and Lee grad, with double major in business and Mandarin Chinese signs on

“Going through college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” Dillon Myers said. “My internships covered a variety of fields. I was at Thomson Reuters after my freshman year. I interned with a financial services firm in Shanghai. And then last summer I interned in San Francisco, and that’s where I caught the startup bug. I knew I had to pursue a career in entrepreneurship.”

He had a friend who became a VFA fellow last year in Detroit.

“It’s crazy the impact that a fellow can have on a company,” Myers said. “VFA is good at recruiting the kind of person who will excel in startups. It’s incredible what the fellows from previous years are doing for the companies, the communities, and themselves.

As COO, Myers will be filling a critical role at TicketFire.

“I picked a position where I’ll have a lot of responsibility over different areas,” he said. “I want to learn everything there is about starting and scaling a company. Down the line, I really want to create my own company, so this is a time to learn and do as much as I can so that when I do have my big idea, I can hit the ground running.”

Myers, who is from Boston, said he was surprised to find that Columbus is dominated by colleges, like his hometown.

“It has a tight-knit community feel, kind of like Boston,” he said. “It seems like the entrepreneurial community is so tight knit and feels like a city where I can learn the most and develop as an entrepreneur quickly. I don’t think there is anywhere else that I will learn as much from as many great mentors as I can here. I couldn’t be more excited to get to Columbus and start working.”

TechColumbus continues to recruit VFA fellows into Central Ohio

It varies from person to person, but generally fellows are looking for two things—a great experience and a leadership role that allows them to make a difference.

“These self-starters have turned down jobs in management consulting or on Wall Street and moved away from wherever they call home to make a difference in a startup today while they learn how to start their own businesses three to five years from now,” said McCann.

“The VFA process is highly selective, even more than I expected. VFA puts an incredible level of effort, care, and hands-on work into getting the best fellows who will be the most successful at these companies,” he said.

“From a startup’s point of view,” McCann said, “knowing that you are getting someone who has made it through that type of process is the type of person that could take any problem that an organization has and figure out a way to move that problem forward.”


Categories: Startup 101


Tags: VFA, Venture for America, Ray Shealy, Mike McCann, Dillon Myers, Ada Sierraalta, SafeWhite, TicketFire, fellows, Newsletter, newsletter issue 1.5, SafeWhite, TicketFire, entrepreneurs, startups