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Venture for America adding 2nd class in Miami, with Knight support

Vfa sigVenture for America, a national nonprofit that recruits, trains and places top college graduates with startups, will send its second class of Fellows to Miami in August with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The eight new Fellows will join six current Fellows for a two-year program working for Miami-based startups.

The Fellows, who will undergo a  five-week training boot camp at Brown University before joining the startups as core team members, are recent graduates of Columbia University, University of Michigan, Vanderbilt University, Notre Dame and Morehouse College. They will be working at local firms Rokk3r Labs, AdMobilize, Kairos and Venture Hive.

The first class of VFA Fellows in Miami has already resulted in a new startup: Tracks, led by Princeton graduate Seth Forsgren.

"The right mix of talent and opportunity is essential to making Miami a global innovation hub," said Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation program director for Miami, which provided a $240,000 grant to fund the program’s expansion. "Venture for America is pushing us toward that goal by seeking out high-impact startups and connecting them with the talent that will help these businesses scale and grow right here in Miami."

VFA believes one of the best ways to accelerate the path to entrepreneurship for young graduates is through apprenticeship. VFA offers training, mentorship and access to capital. Each Fellow is hired as a full-time employee by a startup in one of the VFA cities at a starting salary of $38,000 a year plus benefits.

Since its founding in 2011, Venture for America has placed 300 fellows in 15 cities, including Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Providence, R.I. Venture for America partner companies have added an average of 5 jobs within a year of hiring a fellow and 72 percent have experienced net job growth. Both fellows and startups go through a VFA vetting process. For more information, visit ventureforamerica.org.

Meet the 2015 Fellows

Muhan Zhang, Kairos: a Boston College graduate with a Computer Science degree, is an aspiring engineer who measures good software by lives touched. He is the creator of Noggin, a Google Glass app that helps users with speech and paralysis disabilities communicate via head movements. Designed under the guidance of assistive technology veteran James Gips, Noggin was a finalist for the Blackwood Student Design Award, competed in various business plan competitions on campus and was published by Springer in their Computer Science Proceedings this year. Previously, Muhan has spent time interning in foreign policy, management consulting, and studying Mandarin Chinese abroad as a Fulbright scholar.

 Jide Adebayo, Rokk3r Labs: Jide is a born and raised Memphian who decided to spend his college years in the big city. Jide graduated from Columbia University in New York with a BA in Philosophy and Economics and a Masters in Public Administration through an accelerated 5-year program. Jide has worked in various fields ranging from software development to public policy and founded two companies while attending Columbia. Jide’s first company was a non-profit that provided college mentoring/tutoring services for local high schools and middle schools in New York. The second, Univate, helped students and alumni transform class projects and side projects into startups.

Willem Prins, AdMobilize: Willem graduated with a Biomedical Engineering degree from Columbia University and a Biophysics degree from Elon University. Within research he has worked in several labs, including both attended universities, UNC, and at Pfizer. Willem believes in the future of a world health system with highly personalized healthcare.

Ben Weinstein, Venture Hive: Hailing from Mount Kisco, New York, Benjamin graduated from Connecticut College in 2015 with a Computer Science major. He spends a lot of his free time playing soccer with Conn’s club team and performing improv and stand-up comedy. He has just completed his minor in Philosophy, to appeal to his logical side and strengthen his creative, critical thinking abilities.

Garrett Ransom, Venture Hive: Garrett is a Bay Area bred life enthusiast, who graduated from Morehouse College with a degree in Business Administration. Growing up not too far from the Silicon Valley, he was always surrounded by budding start-ups, but spent most of his college experience networking within Wall Street, interning two summers at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in their investment banking division.  Although he still loves to invest, he now spends a bit more time in the Atlanta Tech Village.

Jinesh Shah, Rokk3r Labs: Jinesh graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Science in Information. His key field of study is user experience design. Last summer, he interned as a designer for Chalkfly, a Detroit-based VFA company that sells office supplies. Working for Chalkfly fueled his entrepreneurial spirit, and he plans to merge his passions for design, information, and technology to start his own company.

Mary Cornfield, Rokk3r Labs: Mary, a NJ native, graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a major in Finance and minors in Entrepreneurship and Constitutional Studies. She interned all over the world, from San Francisco to South Bend, from New York to London. She loves learning about new industries and the challenges they face as evidenced by the fact that all of her internships have been in different industries including business risk consulting, consumer goods, and even a mayoral campaign. Currently she works at Notre Dame’s Investment Office and a startup in the incubator Innovation Park.

 Jesse Golomb, Rokk3r Labs: Jesse graduated from Vanderbilt University with majors in Literary Studies and Communication Studies and a minor in Corporate Strategy. A New York native, he has been passionate about journalism, media and technology from a young age. In addition to interning at VICE Media, ESPN, Newsday, Steiner Sports and doing editorial and digital marketing consulting for a variety of small businesses, he has led several teams in a series of entrepreneurial projects on campus and is a feature writer for his school newspaper. Long term, he hopes to make a career developing technologies that help us communicate, share and learn in meaningful ways.