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May 22, 2014 12:30 pm

Why these Venture for America fellows chose Philly

Last year was the first year of VFA in Philadelphia and its fellows are halfway through their two-year tenure. We caught up with them to see how it's going.

The Philadelphia Venture for America fellows (left to right: Chris Cruz, Kate Leisy, Paige Boehmcke, James Fayal, Eli Schwarz) are at four different Philly tech companies.

(Courtesy photo)

Paige Boehmcke didn’t want to go to grad school.

So, after graduating from Johns Hopkins, the Material Science major accepted an offer from Venture for America, an organization that recruits college graduates and matches them with small, early-stage startups for two years. Boehmcke ended up in Philadelphia, working with a Nobel Prize-winning nanomaterial at Graphene Frontiers.

Venture For America, based in New York and founded by Andrew Yang, wants to empower and revitalize American cities, including Philadelphia — and smaller ones like Detroit and Baltimore. For the Philly class of fellows, it lured graduates away from investment banking, consulting, graduate school and even larger startups.

VFA’s presence in Philadelphia is growing. So far, VFA has accepted eight fellows for Philadelphia’s class of 2014, up from last year’s five, said spokeswoman Elisabeth Deogracias. It’s placing them at companies like LeadiD, Biomeme and Clutch. Last year was the first year of VFA in Philadelphia and its fellows are halfway through their two-year tenure. We caught up with them to see how it’s going.

Why did Kate Leisy, who graduated from Vanderbilt, choose to be come a fellow?

“Part of me just wanted to take the route that no one expected,” she said.

Now she works at Curalate, a Center City-based visual analytics startup. Through her job as a Client Success Manager, she helps brands (like Under Armour, one of her favorite clients) on marketing strategy and campaigns. It’s a unique and creative opportunity with a built-in network that Leisy says she wouldn’t have had access to without VFA.

Chris Cruz, a Penn graduate, also works at Curalate on their Business Operations team, tackling everything from taxes to company finances and accounting. Cruz described himself as fairly “location-agnostic” during the job search process, something that he admits many young people looking for work in startups aren’t.

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But he said, “I personally cared more about the company and what they had to offer.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Leisy said that the city was a large part in her decision to choose VFA.

“One of the major advantages is the network [in each city],” says Leisy. “Philly was one of the cities I could see myself staying in or creating something in.”

James Fayal, who turned down his offer in consulting after delaying it for three months in order to work for VFA, agrees. He’s the controller at makerspace NextFab Studio and has started his own company on the side, Zest Tea, a caffeinated alternative for non-coffee-drinkers. Next year, after his fellowship, he says he wants to be in either Philly or Baltimore.

Here’s one point in favor of Philadelphia, according to Cruz: “You’re surrounded by inspiration. Everyone around you is doing something really cool.”

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