A Job Opportunity for Entrepreneurial New Grads

New program places recent graduates at startup companies.

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Recent college graduates who are interested in entrepreneurship but not yet ready to leap into self-employment may want to check out a new program that will soon place young workers at startups.

Based on the Teach for America model, Venture for America will offer 50 positions at a variety of new companies in Detroit, New Orleans, and Providence, R.I., with the goal of growing both numerically and geographically in coming years. The nonprofit organization aims to both provide jobs for smart-minded young people and help new companies succeed in cities that need them.

"If young people are interested in entrepreneurship, learning how to build a business, potentially putting themselves in a position to learn how to build their own business someday, this is a fantastic learning environment for that," says Andrew Yang, who founded the organization. Yang created and worked with several startups, including Manhattan GMAT, a test-preparation firm that is now part of Kaplan Test Prep.

[See Why New Graduates Should Consider Entrepreneurship.]

Venture for America's application period opens in August, and the first participants will begin working in summer 2012. They'll bring home a salary in the mid-$30,000 range, paid by each host company. The organization itself, as well as training and recruitment, is funded by philanthropists and corporate sponsorship from IAC, an Internet company that includes Match.com and Vimeo.

Participating companies include Detroit Venture Partners, a venture-capital fund that backs new technology companies; VCharge, a Providence-based company that aims to make the energy grid more efficient; O'Connor Real Estate and Development in Detroit; and Liveset, a New Orleans company that streams live concerts in high definition.

"It's a really cool concept," says Josh Linkner, CEO of Detroit Venture Partners, which launched in November. "It's a win for the fellows themselves because they get exposure and experience in a world that's typically not easy to get into." And it's a win for the companies because it helps them bring smart workers on board, he says.

Detroit Venture Partners will place 20 to 30 participants at companies they fund or are affiliated with, Linkner says. "Entrepreneurship and innovation is what's going to get us out of the [economic] challenges we face today," he says.

[See Job Market Sucks? Not for Techies.]

For applicants looking to increase their chances of acceptance, Yang says Venture for America will look for innovators who have graduated college within the last few years, those who have proven that they're leaders and high-performers. Applicants should have studied economics, finance, or business, or somehow gained a basic knowledge of how businesses work.

They'll also be looking for applicants with Web and technical skills. "We'd certainly love programmers and engineers to apply," Yang says. "Just like other startup companies, our network of companies are hungry for programming talent."

agrant@usnews.com