Thinking about life after college can be daunting. Luckily, there are many post-grad programs and opportunities that can help bridge the gap between undergraduate studies and the real world. DFAlumni John Wetzel, Sameer Srivastava, and Cassie Coravos (and more) have found great opportunities with Venture for America, a two-year fellowship program with a focus on entrepreneurship and job creation. VFA Fellows work at a startup in one of 15 U.S. cities after attending a 5-week training camp, where they learn business skills from industry leaders and entrepreneurs.
As an upcoming deadline to apply to Venture for America fast approaches, we wanted to highlight a few stories from VFA DFAlumni. Check out these experiences below before the November 27th application deadline!
DFA Notre Dame ’16 – Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Design
Cleveland – BoxCast, Lead Designer
When John joined Venture for America, he was specifically looking for a design job. He found this job at BoxCast, a live video streaming software and hardware startup, where he is the only designer. John’s experience with DFA prepared him for the job and granted him experience with user research and problem solving that few others had. During John’s first year as a Fellow, Boxcast was focused on building an updated version of its product which compressed video and sent it out to devices. He knew very little about video production, and while the team was engineering-heavy, no one really knew what the update needed to look like. John’s first instinct was something he learned from DFA: Boxcast needed to get out and talk to people. The team knew they had some things to figure out, but John knew they needed face-to-face time with clients to verify problems before ideating solutions. They visited all of the places that used their service — churches, high schools, video production companies, and started asking questions. After gathering information from stakeholders, the team hacked out a wooden prototype of the product and gained much more insight on the root problem and their possible solutions. This user-first method of research enabled him to get a foothold on a new project despite his lack of experience with the specific task.
BoxCast office in Cleveland, OH (c/o John Wetzel)
“VFA helped me transition my idealism into the workplace. What I do on the day-to-day has impact down the road. We’re making connections [between people], but the day-to-day is much more about being in a tech startup. You can find that middle ground.”
DFA Northwestern ‘17 – Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science
Baltimore – Leverege, Product Engineer
Sameer is a new Fellow this year, and has spent the past few months adjusting to life at a small startup. He works as a Product Engineer at Leverege, an Internet of Things solutions startup in Baltimore. The company has been growing rapidly, and he is currently focused on software development, but hopes to transition into a UI/UX role in the future. Sameer says he’s grateful for the support of VFA in his transition into the workforce. The job was overwhelming at first: Leverege has just 13 employees, so his words and actions carry a lot of weight. “You can’t really drop the ball,” he says. However, the training provided by VFA, like software development workshops and a marketing seminar with McKinsey, prepared him to tackle workplace challenges. Despite the pressure, he feels involved and active at Leverege, which he appreciates in contrast to the smaller starting role he might have had at a large company. In the future, he aims to integrate ideas of human-centered design into how Leverege tackles UI/UX challenges.
Speaking with DFAers turned VFAers like Cassie Coravos (NU ‘15) and Evan Fried (MSU ‘15) who had a similar design perspective inspired Sameer to apply to VFA, and he hopes to act as a mentor to students applying this upcoming year.
Baltimore is currently home to 22 fellows, and Leverege employs three of them. Sameer lives with other VFAers and is grateful for the training and support the organization has provided as he settles into the city. The overarching support system of VFA is tangible, from the 6-week training in the summer, to connecting fellows across the nation, and even through the many alumni network opportunities after program completion. The Baltimore Fellows often have dinner together, have formed a trivia team, and recently took a trip to the National Aquarium. “VFA is valuable because of the mission, but also because of the community,” says Sameer. “If you’re on the fence, just apply and do it. See where it takes you.”
“I don’t love startups, but I love Venture for America. VFA has a strong understanding that creating healthy communities is important, and there’s more to think about in businesses than just growing and scaling quickly.”
Cassie Coravos just finished her two-year fellowship and now works with Kiva and Build Institute to help small business owners get funding for their ideas. Cassie’s VFA experience began with working at The Empowerment Plan, a small Detroit nonprofit that employs homeless women and manufactures coats that become sleeping bags. Cassie knew she wanted to join VFA when she realized that her values aligned so well with the organization’s mission: to create companies with the community. “I never give the short pitch of VFA — I always give the longer story and why I care about Detroit. This program brought me many opportunities to meet people who helped me better understand the city. There’s so much you cannot learn unless you have some tough conversations.”
“It’s important that my energy goes towards the city I live in,” she says, listing off the many ways she stays involved in Detroit: volunteering at the polling location on Election Day, attending community board meetings, serving as the Detroit representative on the VFA alumni board, all while organizing dinners for Detroit SOUP, a grassroots project-funding campaign where participants pay five dollars for dinner, listen to project proposals, and then vote on a winner who receives the proceeds from the evening.
Cassie admires the way that VFA has embraced job creation from a human-centered perspective. This is one of the big connections between our two organizations which is often overlooked, and Cassie used this connection throughout her VFA application process. Although she had never taken a business or marketing class, she applied a human-centered perspective to everything: “From DFA I knew how to have conversations to understand and identify real needs. To make sales, you have to understand what a customer needs. To run an effective team, you have to understand the people you work with.” Running through all the tools of human-centered design she learned in DFA is what helped Cassie see her fit within VFA. Two years later, she says, “It’s still what I do every day at my job.”
Check out more details about VFA here. The next application deadline is November 27th, and the final deadline is January 29th, 2018. We’re excited to have more DFAers join VFA in the coming year!