College

When I was in college, I must have switched my career choice upwards of 50 times. First, it was going to be real estate, then I was going to follow my parents’ footsteps and become an attorney, to real estate again, then investment banking, so on and so forth. And though I was never able to circle in on one specific field, I’ve always known I wanted to build something of my own at some point in my life. I had always had an interest in creating, or building something that didn’t exist before. I’ve written a musical, spearheaded initiatives with organizations at my college, and even had a bake sale in front of William & Mary’s library with my friend Liam so we could come up with some beer money for Corona night. Even in high school, my friends and I would come up with creative business ideas and write business plans to visualize those ideas in action.

But as college goes on, the pressure of “What are you doing this summer?” becomes more and more real. As entrepreneurial as my ambitions were, I felt pressured to follow what most of my friends were doing for their summer internships. We all planned to be in New York for the summer, and I was actually quite excited to have my first corporate job (internship). During my junior year of college, I interviewed with and eventually accepted an internship at a bank for the following summer. At this point, I was pumped. I didn’t have a worry in the world, and I had so much to look forward to: I was heading to Spain the following semester for five months abroad, I just landed an awesome internship in New York, and I had only one more semester of college left before graduating a semester early and heading off to some place on a cheap one-way flight to travel for a few months until I started my first job out of school. My plan started out perfectly. The five months I spent abroad were some of the most incredible of my life, and I expected my lucky horizons to continue into the summer and beyond.

I was wrong.

My surety regarding my career and ensuing life plan came to an abrupt end three weeks into my internship. Not only did I realize that the finance path wasn’t for me, I felt like I had to start over again to figure out what I had spent the previous three years of my life preparing for.

I spent the rest of the summer thinking long and hard about what I wanted to do. Instead of digging into the numbers for a wide variety of businesses, I wanted to be boots-on-the-ground for the very companies I was learning about - the same companies creating and sharing technology that would leave the world in a better place than before they came into existence. Later on that summer, I sat down with the head of my group to discuss my career goals. I let him know that I wanted to build my own company one day, and his response was, “The only time to start a business is now. Don’t worry about this job, there will be plenty more where this came from.” That advice pushed me to think long and hard about my professional goals.

VFA

It’s the first night of my senior year in college. I lay in bed trying to come up with an idea of what to do after graduation, and decide to bust open my laptop and log in to William and Mary’s career site. I’m scrolling through the posts and nothing is capturing my eye: “Associate Consultant,” “Financial Analyst,” “Research Assistant.” But now I see something promising: “Venture for America - Become a part of the next generation of entrepreneurs”. I have about three hours until the application deadline, so, of course, I procrastinate on Facebook for a while, but muster up some last-minute focus to get my application across the finish line before midnight. Let’s see what happens.

To make a long story short, I was accepted to VFA after a number of interviews and the selection day in New York. When I received the call letting me know I’d be offered a place in the 2018 class, I knew it was what I was going to be doing after college. Let me explain why:

I can’t speak for all people, but I can definitely speak for many students at competitive universities when I say that going into finance or consulting seems to be the only option when thinking up post-grad plans. Why? These industries (and especially “top” companies like Goldman Sachs and McKinsey) tell college juniors and seniors they will be provided with the following if they accept a job from their company:

  1. A great brand name that looks awesome on a resume
  2. A pretty hefty starting salary upwards of $100k
  3. An elite professional network right out of the gate
  4. A structured training program designed to teach you valuable professional skills
  5. Highly sought-after exit opportunities

They’re not wrong; however, the problem is these same companies and analyst programs don’t provide the following as part of the experience:

  1. An environment to think creatively most days on the job
  2. Outsized responsibility early in your career
  3. Access to repeat entrepreneurs who know how to build sustainable businesses
  4. Direct access to and interaction with upper management
  5. An idealistic community that seeks to push humanity forward and drive positive social change

Now, if an opportunity exists that meets all of these criteria, it’s likely within a powerfully innovative startup company. But how do you find such an opportunity? That’s where VFA comes in. VFA is a built-in network of entrepreneurs, startup companies and job opportunities, and motivated college graduates with a shared value system, significantly de-risking the entire startup experience. (Disclaimer: you probably won’t make $100k if you do VFA, but it’s definitely worth it!)

Leverege

Before match opened, I thought long and hard about what I wanted out of VFA. I knew I wanted direct mentorship, a great culture, and the ability to gain responsibility quickly as I proved my worth.

Leverege stuck out to me during the VFA match process. They were prepared to connect with fellows, had a developed application process, were able to speak to their business model, and had a genuine interest in me as a candidate. All of these things made me really excited about the company.

Considering my “asks” for my VFA experience, my excitement about Leverege turned concrete: I wanted to join the team. Our CEO has successfully built and sold multiple companies, my position as a project manager allows me to gain experience in management, problem solving, communication, and a variety of different areas that would be otherwise unavailable in a “traditional first job,” and our company is diverse, fun, and competitive (in a good way), all lending to a fantastic culture.

Looking Beyond

The decision to join Leverege has been a fantastic one, and I look forward to what accepting positions from VFA and Leverege will lead to in the future. I am so happy with my decision to take a non-traditional career path after college. The associated challenges, opportunities, and networks that have arose out of Venture for America, Leverege, and life in Baltimore are not what I expected to experience post-college, but are the only way I can imagine living my first few years after college now that I’m experiencing them first-hand. I encourage anyone who is interested in VFA to apply, because the same things that draw you to the program are those that will make you happy you did it.


New to IoT? Check out our Intro to IoT eBook!

Download the free eBook
Hayden Cohen

Read More About VFA

VIEW ALL POSTS
My VFA Experience
Hayden Cohen
Project Manager
Marc Bielas
Digital Marketing Manager
Michael Wedd

Have Questions?
Want to Work With Leverege?

Fill out the form below and we will be in touch with you shortly!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.