How two years in Cincinnati has shaped the first class of Venture for America fellows

Summer is often synonymous with transition. For the 2012 class of Venture for America (VFA) fellows, whose commitment to the program officially ends this summer, the two terms intersect.
But transition means something different for each fellow. Some plan to leave Cincinnati for new opportunities, and others are redefining their current roles. 
For Jim Kahmann, who joined One More Pallet—a team originally comprised of two—transition means moving to New Orleans to work for Oseberg and pursue a career in energy. 
For Roanne Lee, whose post-collegiate experience has remained with Cintrifuse, it means exploring more startup communities that she can help build.
Dan Bloom, who began his VFA experience with BlackbookHR, recently joined Donde, and Chelsea Koglmeier's role with Roadtrippers is evolving as the company prepares for expansion.
Finding directions
The two-year venture has been one of finding direction. 
Koglmeier began her VFA experience working for the Brandery, dealing with sets of companies and various entrepreneurs, but she veered from her original plan and ended up at Roadtrippers, a singular product, with whom she intends to stay.
"[Through work experiences], you find things you like or qualities of a workplace where you can say, 'Yes, I really need this [to succeed],' or, 'Yes, I really want this,'" Koglmeier says. "Either way, it points you in the right direction."
Her expectations were never met, but for the better.
"I came into it thinking the experience was going to be something different than it's turned out to be," Koglmeier says. "I'm in a two-year Venture for America commitment, but it's not defining what my relationship with Roadtrippers is."
Likewise, it took Lee some time to find her way and deal with all of the changes occurring simultaneously.
"The first year I was here was very difficult—it was a lot of adaptation," Lee says. "It could be everything from moving, to a personal level, to work or going through certain changes within the organization, to my role, or other friendships and relationships that I had. The second year: I feel like I would struggle to find another time I was as happy."

Risk and Uncertainty
When the 2012 VFA fellows joined the organization, it was unclear what two years would bring, or what they would accomplish.
"The second day of our training camp in Providence, RI, everybody got up and started asking the CEO, Andrew Yang, questions," Kahmann says. "My question was, 'How many of us do you expect to fail in this endeavor over two years, and how soon?'"
Leaving "failure" mostly to interpretation, Kahmann didn't get the response he sought.
"It's kind of a scary question," Kahmann says. "But failure has kind of been, 'Can you last the full two years, this commitment, this ideal that we all aspire to?' [Employers] want to know, 'If my startup lasts for a full two years, can I reasonably expect this guy or girl right out of college to stick with it through the lows for a full two years?'"
That perseverance despite understanding the risk, Kahmann says, makes the program more viable and everybody that's in the program more hirable by entrepreneurs across the country,
Watching his VFA peers across the country arrive on either side of that expectation—and find personal and professional success regardless of that ideal—has helped define the answer to his question.
"It's been cool to be part of the 2012 class, where we've been setting the precedents day after day," Kahmann says. "I think by and large the program has become more and more successful."
Preparing a new class
Spending time with and preparing the incoming class of VFA fellows has been one of the first class' most recent collaborative efforts.
"We've already had about 10 fellows come out to visit," Bloom says. "We're trying to make a concerted effort to get the message promoted a little bit more."
Recently, the first class held an event in which incoming fellows visited Cincinnati for a weekend experience, in an effort to secure job offers.
"The idea is that no matter what, you get to know each other, interface with other people you might be living with, working with, and in the end you fall in love with the city," Lee says.
Communication between fellows remains consistent outside of events, however, whether that's through email or visits.
"I talk to upcoming fellows all the time, and they ask me all these questions about what the experience is like," Lee says. "Basically, I narrow it down to a few value propositions and a few [lessons learned]."
The most important of those ideas is the larger network of fellows.
"You're able to interface and grow with them [in parallel]," Lee says. "Everybody's kind of going through the same things. I think that's been the best experience, to look across all these different cities, companies, etc., and just take a little bit of [learning] from everybody."
Bloom contributed similar advice for incoming fellows.
"Taking advantage of that knowledge and being a part of that process, and building Venture for America and what it means to be a fellow, is critical," Bloom says. "Whether it's spending an extra $200 to go back to New York and be a part of a cool VFA event or not spending it because you're tired and don't want to travel. Go do it, be a part of it, experience it."

Like the fellows themselves, each fellow's impression of Cincinnati has evolved.  Kahmann described the city as "langsam," German for "slow moving."
The first class consisted largely of fellows from bigger cities: Lee from L.A.; Kahmann from New York; and Bloom from Boston.
"We could all take a hiatus from our initial fast-paced lives," Kahmann says. "But when we came here in 2012, it was a completely different city than it is now."
Career goals or opportunities don't always intersect with desired location, but convincing people that find success in a growing city to stay is essential to development, Kahmann says.
"People leaving is just another sign that Cincinnati is being successful. If people are leaving [after finding success], then Cincinnati is the birthplace of success. But a certain percentage of them are going to stay. And the nominal number of people that stay just needs to be higher year after year."
But sometimes change is slow moving, regardless of the outcome.
"It's still langsam in it's own way, but it's a different type of slow moving," Kahmann says.  "It's transforming into something."
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Kyle is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati. When he isn't writing, he's making music, riding his bike and taking photos of his adventures.