A refreshing change from the investment banks and consulting firms that tend to seek Penn graduates, a new organization, Venture for America, looks to send those students into startup companies instead.
Last night, Students for Tech and Entrepreneurship at Penn hosted Andrew Yang, the founder of Venture for America, to explain the organization’s mission to Penn students.
Yang started his career at a law firm then left to co-found an internet startup. Eventually, after also working in health care, spending a few years as a night club promoter and heading the popular test preparation company, Manhattan GMAT, he created Venture for America.
For Yang, a huge aspect of the idea is the potential for job creation, a pressing issue in today’s depressed economic climate.
“The way you create jobs is to get really, really smart people to work in growth companies,” said Yang, referring to the new and promising businesses that he’s working with.
“[What if] all … Wharton [graduates] went to growth companies instead of finance?” he asked the audience. “How long would that take to make an impact?”
Yang questioned the idea that a few years in either consulting or finance prepares someone to venture into startups and other business ventures. “What you do for those few years actually changes you somewhat,” he said.
Yang recalled his own experience working at a law firm after graduate school. He said, “I felt my brain rewiring to whatever it was they wanted me to do.”
Neither does Yang see the validity in going into finance to learn about starting a business. “It’s like trying to become a chef by going to a company that sells things to restaurants,” he said.
Yang framed Venture for America as a way to get involved with companies that are in the business of building rather than processing.
“The national university system is a de facto talent drain on many areas of the country,” said Yang, pointing out that because most university graduates move to cities like San Francisco, New York, Boston and Washington D.C., where their finance and consulting employers tend to be, many other cities lose out on that talent pool.
Yang observed that the cities with over 10 percent unemployment are, for the most part, far away from those finance and consulting epicenters.
Venture for America will enact its program for the first time later this year and plans to send its participants to work in non-traditional cities like Detroit, Providence, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Las Vegas.
The kind of startup companies that have joined the project excited both Yang and the audience.
“These companies do real things,” he quipped. “Isn’t that exciting!”
One of the firms, General Nano in Cincinnati, uses carbon nanotubes to solve technical problems in fields such as aerospace and defense.
“My initial reaction? I love it!” said Wharton junior Daniel White. “It puts a name to an option — [like] joining a startup — that may already exist, but makes it more concrete.”
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