Venture for America bullish on Birmingham

Venture for America bullish on Birmingham
Birmingham is among the cities with the largest classes of Venture for America fellows. A high percentage of the fellows remain in the Birmingham business community when their fellowships are finished. (contributed)

A new class of Venture for America (VFA) fellows is primed to join the Magic City’s growing entrepreneurial community, and the prestigious New York-based nonprofit that has placed college graduates with startups and other cutting-edge organizations in the city since 2015 is more bullish on Birmingham than ever.

Last year, despite the challenges of the pandemic, VFA placed its largest and most diverse class of Birmingham fellows, with 45% of the 21 identifying as underrepresented minorities.

This year’s class of 19 fellows coming to Birmingham is among the largest in the nation, with only Philadelphia and Detroit attracting more than the Magic City.

Equally impressive is the number of fellows who choose to stay in Birmingham after their two-year fellowships with local companies comes to an end. To date, 100 fellows have accepted positions in the city, or 63% since VFA began tracking the number in 2017.

A broad range of homegrown companies, startups and organizations will be supported by this year’s class of VFA fellows. They include Alabama Power, Landing, Urgent Care for Children, WillyGoat, Hardware Park and Acclinate.

In addition, four minority fellows are part of a new VFA “Economic Empowerment Cohort” – unique to Birmingham – designed to support the growth of diverse enterprises in the city. These fellows will be working with Babypalooza, Innovation Depot and TechBirmingham. The Economic Empowerment Cohort is supported, in part, by the Alabama Power Foundation.

“I have been a Birmingham super fan since visiting for the VFA Innovation Trek, where we toured the city’s dynamic startup ecosystem and met the innovative local leaders who are driving the inspiring growth in the city,” said Dorie Smith, a member of VFA’s board of directors.

“The Alabama Power Foundation team has impressed me since our first meeting with all they have done in the city and across the state,” Smith said. “Their partnership is a key part of our success in Birmingham.”

In all, since the first four college graduates arrived in Birmingham, VFA has placed fellows with 55 companies and organizations in the city. Almost all are working in emerging industries in Birmingham, including tech and healthcare.

“Birmingham has been an important member of the Venture For America community since we joined forces with the city in 2015,” said VFA CEO Eric Somerville.

VFA set a goal that, by 2023, it would persuade 50 companies to hire fellows and 100 fellows to accept jobs in the city. The organization has already hit the mark in 2021.

Indeed, VFA officials said Birmingham continues to rise in prominence and draw growing interest among the 200 fellows placed annually in 13 VFA cities. This year’s Birmingham fellows come from a wide lineup of universities from across the nation, including Duke, UCLA, the University of Michigan, Georgetown, Boston University and Columbia.

An array of community partners and supporters have helped establish and firm up VFA’s presence in Birmingham, including the Birmingham Business Alliance, UAB, Samford University, Birmingham-Southern College, the Alabama Capital Network, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and the city of Birmingham, VFA officials said.

“Partners in the area, such as the Alabama Power Foundation, have been a key part of our success and we continue to see increased engagement year over year due to the efforts of our Community Director Abby Guerin and other local stakeholders,” Somerville said. “We look forward to seeing what VFA and the Birmingham startup community can accomplish together in the years to come.”

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