Venture forth, Generals

Interested entrepreneurs have the opportunity to kick-start their career with Venture for America


The Venture for America logo. Photo courtesy of the Venture for America Facebook page.

Alex Kinzer


When Washington and Lee alum Mike Wilner, ‘13, decided that wanted to become an entrepreneur, he wasn’t sure where to start.

After completing a summer internship with J.P. Morgan the summer before his senior year, Wilner decided that investment banking was not the career he wanted.

“I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I didn’t know where to start,” Wilner said. “It’s not a set career path.”

Finally, he chose to apply for Venture for America.

Venture for America is a two year fellowship program with a similar structure to Teach for America. Started in 2011, Venture For America’s website states that it “recruit[s], train[s], and place[s] top recent graduates at startups in emerging U.S. cities such as Baltimore, Detroit, and New Orleans, with the goal that our Fellows go on to revitalize those cities, build businesses, and ultimately, create jobs.”

The first W&L alum to join Venture for America, Wilner worked for two Detroit companies, BoostUp and Social Proof. He and two other Venture for America Fellows have since started their own company, Compass, which Wilner described as a “web design marketplace for individuals or small businesses.”

Venture for America fellows receive five weeks of training at Brown University before they begin their new jobs at various start-up companies.

For W&L alum Stewart Cory, ’15, training camp had two purposes. Although the fellows were presented with challenges designed to train them for their new jobs in start-up businesses, training camp also allowed the fellows to bond with their class.

“Your [Venture for America] class becomes your network and base for resources,” Cory said. “They become a friend network.”

Venture for America can also help provide resources for fellows who want to start their own businesses. Fellows can compete for access to capital through Venture for America programs such as the Seed Fund and Innovation Fund in order to help them build their own companies.

For W&L students who think that their liberal arts degrees disqualify them from becoming entrepreneurs, Venture for America begs to differ.

“Working at a startup is less about what you studied in college than what you can contribute in terms of grit, character, and work ethic,” Leandra Elberger, senior communications and development manager for Venture for America, said. “Startups have all kinds of needs outside of coding. Liberal arts majors can take on operations, marketing, and business development, to name a few.”

Cory, a geology major and studio art minor, is currently in her first year of the fellowship. She is working at Are You A Human, a tech company in Detroit that Cory said “builds code or software to distinguish robots from humans on the internet.”

Cory felt that the skills she learned from her geology major have been very useful to her experience with Venture for America.

“It taught me how to dive into a new subject, understand data and piece together unfamiliar concepts,” Cory said.

Venture for America’s next deadlines for seniors are Nov. 30 and Feb. 1. There is also an early application process for juniors, with a deadline of April 11. Interested students can find more information at