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Detroit's Venture for America Fellows compete for Innovation Fund startup capital

In recent years, several talent attraction and development fellowship programs have sprung up in Detroit, each pairing young and mid-career professionals with jobs in public, private, and non-profit organizations based in the city.

Venture for America is one such program that began operating in Detroit in 2012. Modeled as a private sector version of Teach for America, VFA, a two year program, pairs recent college grads with startups in cities around the country. Currently 28 VFA fellows are based in Detroit.

"Venture for America 
focuses on entrepreneurship. It's kind of a career accelerator for individuals interested in entrepreneurship and doing creative things in their cities," says VFA fellow Eleanor Meegoda, who works at Detroit Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that backs and seeds early-stage technology companies based in Detroit.

As a part of the fellowship program, VFA fellows are eligible to participate in the semi-annual Innovation Challenge in which they are tasked with crowdfunding for side ventures that solve a problem or satisfy a need that fellows have identified. The ventures that raise the most money will receive additional support from the VFA Innovation Fund, with prizes ranging from $4,000 to $10,000.

This year, Detroit is well represented in VFA's Innovation Challenge. Ventures include Compass, a service that empowers small businesses to better navigate the complicated digital landscape by connecting them with people who know technology; Assembly of Commerce, a new, online-based “chamber of commerce” helping small businesses band together to create “economies of scale” and compete with the giants; Motor City Machine, an effort inviting all Detroiters -- artists, students, businesses, non-profits, faith organizations, Detroit City and Metro Detroiters -- to join in building a giant Rube-Goldberg Machine; Yumness, a platform for restaurateurs & aspiring chefs to connect and collaborate; and Zapenda, an e-commerce platform that connects artisans from the developing world to a global market.

The Detroit ventures and other proposals from VFA fellows around the country can be found at http://www.rockethub.com/projects/partner/vfa.

Detroit VFA fellow Eleanor Meegoda is part of the team behind the Motor City Machine project, which hopes to bring Detroiters together to build a giant Rube Goldberg machine collaboratively.

"The reason I'm doing this is because Detroit is a city of builders and makers," says Meegoda. "It's got a history that's linked with industrialization and the machine. What better way then is there to bring all sorts of Detroiters together?"

You can try your hand at building a Rube Goldberg machine by visiting the Motor City Machine team at Eastern Market's Sunday marketplace.

Source: Eleanor Meegoda, VFA fellow
 
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