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Meet 11 Venture for America fellows working at Baltimore startups for the next two years

These recent graduates will be working at nine local companies to gain hands-on entrepreneurship experience.

A mega-sized Zoom of the VFA 2021 fellows. (Courtesy image)

A new cohort of Venture for America fellows arrived in Baltimore this fall to bring a spark of youthful entrepreneurial spirit to local startups and learn the ropes of building a company themselves, with the ultimate goal of the fellows building that venture in Charm City.

The fellowship matches recent college graduates with startups and growing tech companies for a two-year stint, offering fellows exposure to what it’s like to build a new company, minus the risk that comes with trying to do that alone. The goal is to give budding entrepreneurs  hands-on experience in a startup environment and encourage fellows to put down roots and build their own enterprises in one of the 14 cities they may be matched in.

Along with being the home of recently named executive director Eric Somerville, Baltimore has been a Venture for American city since the program’s inception in 2012. So far, 150 fellows have started their careers with their first match job in Baltimore. It’s a testament to how the organization brings talent to cities to stay, and how it offsets the brain drain city’s face from higher profile tech hubs like San Francisco and New York city. Institutions with an eye on retaining talent in the city is important, as Baltimore’s population shrank over the last decade, despite being home to a premier medical institution like Johns Hopkins.

Venture for America also launched an accelerator program for companies founded by program alumni. It’s a four-month virtual cohort aimed at guiding fellow-founded companies from market validation to early traction. The Baltimore-based VFA alum in this year’s cohort is Adeel Afshar’s company, Halal Beauty Cosmetics. It’s marketed as “a 100% Halal Certified Cosmetics for Muslims who want to look and feel beautiful without compromising on their faith.”

Here are the 11 Baltimore fellows in this year’s VFA program, and the nine companies that will be their home for the next two years:

Arena Analytics

  • Jeremiah Bauer, Arizona State University (Tempe)
  • Will Worsley, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

EcoMap Technologies

  • Eden Ryan, Kennesaw State University
  • Maria Ulayyet, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor


  • Victoria McAlister, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

JHU: FastForward

  • Rio Northington, Michigan State University

Lumina Solar

  • Jojo Cheng, Cornell University


  • Connar Williams, New College of Florida


  • Emily Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


  • Leo Holland, Wesleyan University

The Aequo Fund

  • René Harris, Howard University
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: Rendia / Venture for America

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