By Bartie Scott, @GenFKD
If a billionaire investor offered you $100,000 to drop out of college, would you take it? It’s tempting when you think about not having to go to class every day, take out student loans or live in a dorm with a communal bathroom.
But what if the catch was that you had to start your own company? Do you know what you want to do for 40-plus hours every week? Do you know what it takes to design a product, raise capital and manage employees? Do you really want to give up four of the most formative years of your social and intellectual development?
Sure, people do it. We’ve all heard about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Even Peter Theil’s fellowship has gotten a lot of media coverage—the investor has mentored 83 young entrepreneurs in the last five years, but a few of them have come out saying they wouldn’t do it again, citing a lack of a support system.
College is More Than A Classroom
It’s true that college may not work as well as hands-on experience in preparing someone for the job of running a business, but I would argue that the years spent in college are crucial personal growth years as well as a time to figure out what you are passionate about. Those who begin a career at a young age without experience or an area of expertise are more likely to fail. All but a select few will be too discouraged to try again, either leaving them without qualifications or with the burden of going back to college at a later age.
One thing seems clear: there is no clear-cut path to a career in entrepreneurship. Aspiring doctors and lawyers know the exact steps to take to ensure they’ll be successful in their chosen careers, but there is no residency in founding a company. Does entrepreneurship need more structured training, and can the skills need to launch a company be learned in a classroom.
Enter Venture for America.
Using a model inspired by Teach for America, Venture for America recruits college graduates interested in entrepreneurship (who they call fellows) for job openings in startups or partner companies where fellows spend two years learning what it takes to run a company.
VFA takes their mission one step further to also help out American cities. The companies are exclusively located in secondary markets like Detroit, Philadelphia and Baltimore—all places that have more trouble attracting talent than top markets like New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles. Venture for America is creating an economic development butterfly effect by providing training, mentorship and investor networks for aspiring entrepreneurs. They hope to inspire their fellows and influence them to stay in these markets and form their own companies, doing their part to boost the local economies.
Prerequisites: A College Degree and an Adventurous Spirit
The programs may not be located in the most desirable of cities for a recent college grad, but with the renaissance of the mid-sized city, places like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh may surprise you. These companies are often proponents of the work culture that young professionals are growing to expect—open office spaces, flexible schedules and accepting cultures. They don’t usually have the budget to recruit nationwide, so they’re happy to have access to bright young college graduates through Venture for America.
The biggest requirement for these fellowships is a robust college experience. Venture for America selects graduating college seniors that they believe will contribute to, and eventually lead, a small company. Laura Gill, Senior Talent Manager at Venture for America, says the company looks for fellows whose qualifications are “spiky,” referring to how a line graph of each student’s talents would look plotted on a propensity scale.
A wide range of success in academics, athletics and campus involvement, as well as special skills like foreign languages and coding, are all qualities of a student who would contribute to a startup environment and eventually become a successful entrepreneur.
If you think you want to start your own company, consider a model like Venture for America. If you’ve already graduated, you could create your own VFA-like path to entrepreneurship. Commit yourself to working for a startup for two years. Seek out a company whose values align with your own and make it a goal to learn as much as you can about the ins and outs of running a business. You may find a mentor or a co-founder, and you’ll definitely set yourself up for more career opportunities.
Would you be interested in something like Venture for America? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
This post previously appeared on GenFKD.com