Making an Impact with Venture for America

The program offers a path towards entrepreneurship for bright, motivated students like Jeremy Tong.

If you want to be a doctor, you go to medical school. If you want to be an architect—architecture school. Lawyer? Apply to law school! For many professions, there’s an obvious next step towards achieving your goals. But for aspiring entrepreneurs, there’s really no set, prescribed path to acquire the skills you need to succeed. Dozens of college graduates each year, including Brown University graduate Jeremy Tong, are looking to Venture for America to help chart a course towards their dreams — and they’re making a difference in Ohio cities along the way.

“Entering my senior year, I was coming off two consecutive great summer internships, but I started to question what my next step should be. I had worked at a big-data marketing startup and a sports analytics startup to that point, and I realized that I felt inspired in that sort of fast-paced environment with the potential to make a big impact,” said Tong. “I began zeroing in on startups with the mindset that I’d be able to make an impact right away.”

Jeremy, who studied Computer Science and Economics at Brown, knew there would be no shortage of early-stage companies in need of skilled developers like him. He had a skill set so many young startups covet, and with a strong degree from an Ivy League school, he’d likely be competitive for most entry-level technical positions. At the suggestion of a friend, though, he scheduled an interview for something different: Venture for America, a fellowship program for recent graduates.

“I remember preparing for the interview at my apartment, still pretty unsure what the whole program was about. By the time I hung up the phone, I knew that this would be the best route for me,” said Tong. “They explained that while I could probably land a job at a startup directly out of school by myself, the VFA difference is really in the network and resources the program provides, as well as the impact it has on the communities it’s involved in.”

VFA took Jeremy and the other 177 Fellows in the Class of 2017 through a five-week training camp to prepare them to be impactful entry-level startup employees, and then it was time to get matched with the company they’d be working with for the next two years. Jeremy interviewed and was matched with a few startups before ultimately choosing Juggle, an on-demand babysitting company in Columbus supported by Ohio Third Frontier partner Rev1 Ventures.

VFA continues to provide Jeremy with educational programming and mentoring during his time as a salaried employee with Juggle, as well as activities like pitch competitions to help him develop his own potential business ideas. When his time as a Fellow is over, Jeremy will have opportunities to secure investment from Venture for America for his own startup, if he decides to pursue his dream of entrepreneurship.

“I wanted to work at Juggle because I think it’s an awesome company solving a common-sense problem, and a very young company where I could make an immediate difference,” said Tong, who officially serves as the company’s Technical Analyst. But as the only employee of five with a technical background, Jeremy serves as de facto Technical Everything. “I’m accelerating my career and getting exactly the experience I was looking for.”

Jeremy, who is from St. Paul, Minnesota, and went to Brown in Providence, Rhode Island, is wrapping up his first of two years in Columbus. He admits that he had no idea so much was happening in the startup community in the state of Ohio.

“I’ve loved it, and to be honest, have been totally surprised. I grew up in the Midwest and kind of wrote it off when I went away to school. But I’ll admit I was wrong,” said Tong. “Columbus is a vibrant city with so much happening. I’m excited for another year here, and who knows after that.”

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