Venture for America’s 2nd Class Brings out LinkedIn and HuffPo Bosses

Last night Venture for America celebrated its second, and much larger, class of fellows with the help of The Huffington Post’s president, Arianna Huffington, and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner.

Venture for America recruits seniors and recent grads from top universities to work for two years at startups in urban areas across the country. Later this summer the 70 fellows in this year’s class will be on their way to Detroit, Las Vegas, and other cities.

Andrew Yang, the founder and CEO of New York-based Venture for America, says with last year’s class still busy helping startups, he can show what his program can accomplish. “Now that there are actual fellows doing awesome work in these cities, it’s a game-changer,” he says. Changes in New Orleans, Yang says, have been like “night and day” comparing the period when his program was still an abstract idea to now with fellows working in the city.

In 2012, the first class of about 40 fellows went to work in Detroit, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, and Providence. For 2013, Venture for America expanded to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Cleveland. Companies and projects partnering with the program this year include Benzinga and Chalkfly in Detroit, and the Downtown Project in Las Vegas founded by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

Yang, CEO of Venture for America.

Yang says Venture for America is in talks with six other cities as possible destinations for future classes. “We’re going to end up expanding certainly by next year,” he says.

While on stage, Yang announced that Daniel Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans in Detroit, made a $1.5 million commitment to Venture for America. Other sponsors of the program include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bank of America, and American Express.

The program places the fellows at startups in cities that need a bit of help driving job creation. Recent grads and college seniors are recruited into the program from schools such as Johns Hopkins, Duke, and University of Pennsylvania.

Venture for America held last night’s kickoff party at Internet company IAC’s headquarters in the Chelsea neighborhood. In addition to the fellows and companies involved in the program, the event brought out speakers Huffington and Weiner.

Huffington said she had been eager to find ways to catalyze the economy in spite of the country’s political gridlock. “A year ago, Jeff [Weiner], Ray Chambers, and I were planning to do a couple of events at the [Democratic National Convention] and the [Republican National Convention] around job creation,” she said. “While Washington is fiddling we cannot wait patiently for something to happen.”

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner.

Weiner, she said, insisted on including Yang and Venture for America in that discussion. Huffington praised the program’s work bringing a new dimension to revitalizing urban centers.

Making use of talented students coming out of colleges and universities who want to do good for the world, Weiner said, was part of a separate conversation he had with Ray Chambers, a philanthropist, private equity magnate, and a special envoy to the United Nations. Weiner said there was a desire to marry that concept with developing ways for others to prosper.

“Economic opportunities are the most profoundly and sustainable way to create long-term value,” he said. “In developing countries and hard-hit American cities, we’re creating role models for the next generation of talent that didn’t even know it was possible.”

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