Senior Wins Business Fellowship
Issue   |   Wed, 02/22/2012 - 02:42

Nearly a year ago, Brown Univ. graduate Andrew Yang founded Venture for America to help young entrepren eurs learn the ropes. Yang found the inspiration for VFA in the indecision he felt after leaving college.

“A lot of the people I went to law school with went because they didn’t know what else to do,” Yang said. “I wanted there to be another option. College grads who want to make a start-up business should work for a start-up. My goal was to give these people the resources and path to do so.”

The VFA class of 2012 marks the organization’s inaugural collection of fellows. So far, 28 college seniors have been selected, and Yang estimates there will be 50 in total after the second round of applications get sorted out. Among the first students to receive a fellowship from VFA is Amherst’s own Nihal Shrinath ’12, who joins 27 other seniors from colleges and universities across the country.

“Everyone in the program performed on a high level in their academics and extracurriculars,” Yang said. “The judges unanimously chose Nihal. He is very smart and very earnest. He could have landed a job in a variety of places, but he is genuinely interested in revitalizing America’s job market.”

VFA put Shrinath through an extensive application process, which included three recommendations: one academic, one professional and one community-based. The next step was a phone interview. He was one of 50 applicants invited to Selection Day in New York City. The applicants were split into groups of five and asked to complete group activities in front of a panel of VFA investors, board members and employees; one such activity was building the tallest structure possible out of paper.

“I had never done anything like that before,” Shrinath said.

After receiving the VFA fellowship, Shrinath accepted the position in less than a week. The class of 2012 will spend six weeks of the summer on Brown’s campus completing a training program before being sent for two years to a start-up company in a low-cost city. The list of cities includes Providence, R.I.; Detroit, Mich.; Cincinnati, Ohio and New Orleans, La. Yang hopes VFA will stimulate the job market in these cities, and his goal is for VFA to create 100,000 jobs by 2025.

“I think working at a start-up in a lower-cost city is a fun, productive and exciting thing to do while I’m in my twenties, just out of college,” Shrinath said. As for his preference of location: “If I’m in Las Vegas friends will have an excuse to come visit me.”

Wherever he ends up, Shrinath is sure to make an impression similar to the one he leaves at Amherst. On campus, Shrinath serves as a member of the Green Amherst Project, the Association of Amherst Students, College Council and was the Editor-in-Chief of The Student. Shrinath received an Alpha Delta Phi scholarship to conduct research for his thesis paper on the politics of dam development in India and China. This past winter break, the senior spent time in two central Indian states interviewing professors, government officials and members of NGOs.

“Things work differently in India. There is a lot more red tape, but traveling alone and meeting people was a great experience,” Shrinath said, reflecting on his experience.

Shrinath first encountered this thesis topic after his cousin suggested he read the book “Ecology and Equity: Use and Abuse of Nature in Contemporary India” by Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha. The politics and social consequences surrounding the uses of India’s natural resources particularly interested Shrinath.

“I don’t know what I will do after my two years at VFA,” Shrinath said. “I would love to come up with an idea for a start-up, something to do with renewable energy.”

Fortunately for Shrinath, VFA awards a $100,000 grant to the fellow who performed at the highest level throughout his or her fellowship, so that person can start his or her own company.