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Five University alumni have participated in Venture for America, a two-year fellowship program for aspiring entrepreneurs, since the program was founded in 2011.

Leandra Elberger, senior communications and development manager at VFA, said that VFA seeks to provide an alternative pathway to other paths such as finance and consulting.

She explained that the organization recruits, trains and then helps to match college graduates with startups in 15 cities across the country, including Baltimore, Miami and Philadelphia. She noted that the list of cities VFA works in will be expanding this year.

“That’s something that’s a big draw over some of these larger companies because you generally have to go to big cities to work there,” she said. “With Venture for America, you’re not only going to make an impact at a startup early on, but you can also make an impact in the community by being a young person in that community.”

VFA fellows get access to a wide range of resources, support and training, Elberger said.

“[VFA fellows] can learn the ins and outs of starting a business, see the trials and tribulations, gain some hard skills that they would need, and throughout the fellowship they would have access to programming that would help boost their hard skills, and also then access to capital, if and when they’re ready to start their own businesses after the fellowship is over,” she added.

The five University alumni who have participated in VFA are Eleanor Meegoda ’12, Wesley Verne ’13, Emily Tseng ’14, Seth Forsgren ’14 and Emilie Burke ’15.

Tseng is a former managing editor for The Daily Princetonian.

Verne, who was matched with ZeroFOX and became its principal engineer, said that he was really attracted to VFA’s mission of putting the fellow in a small startup, seeing it grow and allowing the fellow to be important to all areas of the business.

“Personally, one of the biggest things that VFA taught me — one of the most important things I came out of training camp with — was just the way to speak the business language,” Verne added.

Verne said that he participated in the fellowship because he had been an engineer in college and wanted more exposure to the business side of engineering.

Forsgren said he appreciated the role of VFA in his career path for helping him get his own company off the ground.

“[VFA] is definitely not a program for people who want to be told what to do,” Forsgren added. "You need to be a self-starter."

Burke, the most recent VFA fellow from the University and current customer success analyst at Allovue in Baltimore, Maryland, said that she decided to participate in the fellowship because working for a startup gives the fellow the advantages of being on a small team and having a direct input in the company.

“When I have questions, I can ask them,” Burke said. “It’s not considered insubordination, because the whole point of VFA is teaching you how to contribute to a startup.”

Startups can be risky, but the potential for immediate, direct impact is the reward, Elberger said.

“I really love my job. I wake up every day and I want to go to work,” Burke said. “I think that in your five years out of college, that’s not when you should be dreading going to work. You don’t have a mortgage, you don’t have kids to feed — now’s the time to be risky. This is the perfect opportunity to give startups a try.”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misspelled Seth Forsgren '14's last name. The 'Prince' regrets the error.

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