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“If you are a smart kid in the U.S. today, you’re going to do one of six things in one of six places,” says Andrew Yang, founder and CEO of Venture for America. Learning how to build a business is not one of those things, and Cleveland and Detroit are not among the places.
What Mr. Yang means, as he explains in this segment from the Business of Giving, is that today’s top college graduates tend to gravitate toward a handful of fields (financial services, management consulting, the law) in a handful of cities (New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco). As did he, going from Brown and Columbia to a Wall Street law firm before realizing it was a bad fit and starting a successful career in start-ups.
Now Mr. Yang brings that experience to bear at Venture for America, a nonprofit he seeded with $120,000 of his own money. In this interview he details how Venture works to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs through fellowships and mentoring and shepherd that budding business talent to cities most in need of an economic boost. He also discusses Generation Startup, an upcoming documentary about the organization, and Venture’s goal to create 100,000 new jobs across the country by 2025.
The following is conversation between Andrew Yang, Founder and CEO OF Venture for America, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.
Denver: What would you say about a baseball team that was made up entirely of great field and shortstops? Well, you say they need to get some different kinds of players: someone who can hit, maybe a pitcher or two, and some people who can play some other positions in the field. Well, my next guest believes that Team America has too many great field and shortstops. So he has dedicated himself to seeing that some of our best and brightest college graduates become engaged in helping to build enterprises in cities across the United States that could really use their talent. He is Andrew Yang, Founder and CEO of Venture for America. Good evening, Andrew, and welcome to The Business of Giving.
Andrew: Thanks for having me; it’s a pleasure.
Denver: Tell us about Venture for America. What is the central mission and objective of the organization?
Andrew: Venture for America is a nonprofit that recruits and trains top college graduates who want to learn how to build businesses. We train them for a summer, and then we send them to work at early-stage growth companies in Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and other cities around the country that could use an economic boost. Our goals are to help create American jobs through helping early-stage companies grow, and also to train the next generation of entrepreneur.
Denver: Let’s take a look at some of our successful college graduates from some of the very top schools. Is there a default path, Andrew, that they are following– both in terms of careers, and the cities that they gravitate to?
Andrew: Well, I resemble this. When I graduated from college, I didn’t know what to do. So, I went to law school. My parents thought that was a great idea. And then I came to work here in New York as a Wall Street attorney. And to your point, that’s one of the default paths that our top college graduates have today… and one of the top markets. The default paths today are financial services, management consulting, law school, academia to some extent. And our talent tends to concentrate in New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, and a couple of other cities. One joke we have at Venture for America is: if you are a smart kid in the US today, you’re going to do one of six things, in one of six places.
Andrew: To your point about having a lot of the same sort of player on the field, that’s a pretty apt analogy.
Denver: Yeah. As you’re talking about trying to build and groom these entrepreneurs, I think the words “entrepreneur,” and certainly “social entrepreneur,” weren’t very commonplace a generation or two ago. And I think that today: with the lower barriers to entry, with the internet, and with social media, you can start a business from your dorm room or your home. And we read these stories about these incredible, successful entrepreneurs. I think most people have this assumption that more people are going into entrepreneurship than ever before. Would that be a correct assumption, or not?
Andrew: Well, the statistics tell the opposite story: Rates of business formation among Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 are down about 65%…
Andrew: …over the last 25 years. And if you think about technology, it’s really a double-edged sword. So I’ll give you an example… People think: “Hey! Like now, you can spread the word about your business; you can do all of these things cheaply.” But on the flip side, the internet has taken a lot traditional, small business opportunities and transported them to the cloud, if you will.
One comparison I make is that Kevin Plank –who started Under Armour– which is now a multi-billion dollar company– His first business was selling flowers. Today there is 1-800-FLOWERS and a bevy of online vendors that would make that initial business probably unsuccessful. So, there are a lot of opportunities that have now been taken away.
Technology is also a barrier for many people because a lot of people aren’t coders. I’m going to guess that most of the people listening to this broadcast right now are not coders. So, for all the talk and hype about: “Oh, we need to train engineers and coders…” If you look at the ranks of entrepreneurs, the vast majority are non-technical, non-engineers. There has been a lot of industry consolidation at various levels that makes starting a business today actually more rare than it was 25 years ago.
…if you are a Big League hitter, and you hit 300, you’re excellent… which still means you’re not getting on base 70% of the time.
Denver: Yeah, I guess you have to be better than everybody today, whereas before you just had to be pretty good in your own community. Now, you have to be the best of the best. Do you find that young people have a fear of failure?