VFA Fellows excited to move to Cincinnati

In December, we talked with Venture for America founder and White House Champion of Change Andrew Yang about bringing the initiative Fast Company calls “a wildly ambitious non-profit” to Cincinnati.

In August, seven members of VFA’s first class of Fellows are moving to Cincinnati, each paired with a local start-up after a careful process of visits, interviews and plenty of deliberations.

Fellows, high-achieving graduates of top colleges, sign on to immerse themselves in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of a, shall we say, underestimated city (other initial cities include Detroit, Providence, Las Vegas and New Orleans).

Rickey Ishida graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in Mechanical Engineering. The VFA Fellow will be working with restaurant marketing start-up Zipscene on Short Vine.

“Cincy has everything a city would ever want,” Ishida says. “What surprised me most when I visited was how much potential this city has. It has Fortune 500 companies (Macys, P&G, Kroger, etc.), two sports stadiums, great public schools and a university, hospitals and research facilities, affordable and plentiful housing, a water body and a casino.”

After working as a lab technician at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and demolishing and rebuilding a house in his hometown, the Maryland native says he fell in love with Cincinnati at first sight.

“It is an underestimated city with an enormous amount of potential that is just waiting to be released,” he says. “What a great city for entrepreneurs to start their business.”

Chelsea Koglmeier followed a very different path to Cincinnati and her VFA Fellow gig with the Brandery in Over-the-Rhine. The Duke University Public Policy graduate was born and raised in Mariemont, but has spent the past five years working in Philadelphia, Boston, Uganda and Durham; she also studied at the Universidad de San Simon in Bolivia.

“It never crossed my mind to return to Cincinnati,” Koglmeier says. “I was always looking for something new and different where I could immerse myself with different types of people. When I decided to work for Venture for America, to be honest, Cincinnati was at the bottom of my ‘city-choice’ list.”

What changed her mind? “The big turning point to me happened when I returned to Cincinnati and began to envision it for the first time as a place I could live longer term,” says the triathlete. “I realized that I love it. I love the people and how friendly everyone is. I love to be able to say hello to people on the street and smile at strangers.

“It may seem silly, but that was something I had to learn not to do when I lived abroad and in NE cities; people just aren't receptive or you end up in dangerous situations.”  

Midwestern friendliness wasn’t the only deciding factor, though. “Then, I realized the Brandery was too awesome to pass up, and the rest is history,” she says.

Other VFA Fellows heading to Cincinnati, their educational institutions and their start-up employers include:

• Roanne Lee, a Los Angeles native and Georgetown University graduate (she double-majored in Finance and International Business at the McDonough School of Business) will work with Define My Style.

• Dan Bloom, who graduated with honors in History from Wesleyan University, will work with Blackbook.

• Jim Kahmann is a rower heading to the national championships with his team from Columbia Univesrity, where he studied Economics and Political Science. After that, he will work with One More Pallet.

• James Fayal attended the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, studied Finance and gained experience in both private equity and venture capital programs. He will work with CincyTech.

• Max Eisenberg, a Michigan native who attended Washington University in St. Louis, studied Urban Studies and Commercial Entrepreneurship and already leads and has founded regionally focused and discount-driven LLCs around WashU. He will work with Ilesfay.

Look for more stories about and by Venture for America Fellows throughout the summer and beyond.
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