Visionaries series: Venture for America

By pairing college grads with start-ups in struggling cities, Andrew Yang aims to save America’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Helping others isn’t just right thing to do—its also good for business. Case in point: Warby Parker.Led by co-founders Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa, the innovative eyewear company has transformed the way people think about buying glasses and giving back, proving it is possible for companies to do good in the world while still being profitable. Inspired by their success, we partnered with WP to recognize other socially conscious entrepreneurs in our third annual Visionaries Series. These forward thinkers have blended business with philanthropy, changing the game for their industries as well as millions of people in need around the world. Check back weekly to meet the complete class of 2015.

The Person: Andrew Yang

The Business: “Venture for America revitalizes American cities and communities through entrepreneurship.”

The Idea: “Starting a business is brutally difficult—I tried it myself in my mid-20s and failed. But I also found that you could get better at business by working alongside a more experienced entrepreneur. I wanted to give young people a path to build something that could create opportunities for themselves and for others. New business formation today is at multi-decade lows. A higher proportion of people work for older, established firms that don’t create new jobs. We need more young people building and creating value in order to become the country and society we want to be.”

The Goal: “To help people do what they’re wired to do. We have a ton of people doing things they have little interest in, primarily out of inertia. If we can change that we can dramatically improve the economy and society.”

The Impact: “The companies we work with have hired an additional 1,000 people since we started working with them. The company Teespring went from 6 to over 100 employees in just two years. But the real transformation is among our Fellows. Brian Bosche graduated from Dartmouth in 2012 with an Environmental Studies degree. Today, he was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Bizdom in Detroit where he runs a video software startup, TernPro, that’s up to 6 employees. He co-founded the company with Dan Bloom, another VFAer. You do that enough times you’ll change our economy and society.”

The Inspiration: “I love creating opportunities for other people—that, and my family.”

The Surprises: “Coming from the for-profit world, I’ve learned a lot about non-profits. I’ve been surprised how this world works. It’s very different. On the bright side, it requires you to get a lot of other people involved.”

The X-Factor: “We were fortunate enough to have some very dedicated champions early on that made a big difference for us. The team has also been phenomenal in executing and delivering on what we said we wanted to do. If you get the right people together you can do anything.”

The Future: “As we make progress, the potential of Venture for America keeps rising. We think we can provide an onramp to entrepreneurship for women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups to participate in the innovation economy. We need all sorts of people starting companies to solve a wide range of problems for different kinds of people. We’d like to address inefficiencies all over the labor market —did you know the unemployment rate for PhDs is 30 percent in some disciplines? How many smart people do we have out there that aren’t fully engaged with their work? We want to put more of our potential energy and passion to work at every level.”

The Visionary in His Eyes: “I admire everyone who’s building a business in Detroit, New Orleans, Cleveland, Baltimore, St. Louis, Providence, Cincinnati, St. Louis, San Antonio, or any other city. We’re just the facilitators. The real, hard work is being done on the ground.”

The Message: “Life’s too short to do something you’re not that into. If you don’t have a great idea, join a team. Your energy will make a difference.”