by Tiffany Yau, COL ’18/SP2 ’19
I graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in May 2018 with a major in Sociology, then again in 2019 with my Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership from the School of Social Practice and Policy. I am currently a 2020 Venture For America fellow. Venture For America is a two-year fellowship program for recent college graduates to create economic opportunity in American cities by equipping them with the skills and resources they need to create jobs.
Towards the end of my junior year, I grew very interested in entrepreneurship, particularly, social entrepreneurship. Having studied sociology, I was always learning about the most pressing social issues of our time and always wanted to find a way to make a difference but had no clear idea how to. Through my courses and involvement in different on-campus organizations, I learned that social enterprises are for-profit and non-profit businesses that are built with the intention of making an impact on humanity or the planet, which really resonated with me.
I was inspired to start my own social enterprise at the time but realized I was faced with a knowledge gap—I didn’t really know much about business or entrepreneurship—which was why I applied for Venture For America my senior year. However, I was not admitted initially, which led me to pursue Penn’s Master’s. in Nonprofit Leadership program.
During my Master’s program, I started an education nonprofit called Fulphil that empowers youth to develop a social entrepreneurial mindset to inspire them to make an impact and excel in their future careers. Beyond graduation, I made the decision to continue to reside in Philly build out Fulphil. To date, we have provided teachers across the country to teach 4,000 students with our various turnkey courses, including social entrepreneurship, financial literacy, sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and 21st century core skills. However, since starting Fulphil, I found that my biggest challenge was learning how to navigate a lonely journey—being an entrepreneur comes with having a very lonely journey since it is not a commonly sought-after path. This piqued my interest to reconsider applying for Venture For America.
I was admitted in March 2020 right as the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding, making it a very exciting yet scary and uncertain time. Yet, applying for Venture For America was the best decision I have made because of the like-minded community and job security.
Many people pursue the Venture For America fellowship with the hope of starting their own company or learning what it is like to work for a startup. For me, I was thrilled to have the comfort of a career-driven, entrepreneurial, and like-minded community to rely on. Even though my virtual experience differed greatly from other classes of fellows, I still found myself developing a sense of community that I was searching for. I have met some of my closest friends from the fellowship, and they challenge and push me to be the best version of myself that I hope to be.
Further, I feel very grateful to have the fellowship to rely on in supporting me in the job-hunt process, particularly in an unstable job market. Venture For America has a process called Connect, which is an intensive multi-month period where fellows apply for jobs within their company partnership ecosystem in a private portal. Though the experience is self-led, VFA provides the resources and guidance needed to help fellows navigate the interview process. Currently, I work with Red & Blue Ventures, which is a venture capital fund that invests in early-stage tech-enabled companies from the University of Pennsylvania ecosystem.
Red & Blue is the only institutional investment firm solely dedicated to the University of Pennsylvania. The Red & Blue team has had a number of very successful Penn investments including Jet.com (sold to Walmart for $3.3 billion), Warby Parker ($3 billion valuation), Yodle (sold for $350 million), and Diapers.com (sold to Amazon for $545 million).
I wanted to work at Red & Blue not only because of their impressive track record but also because I admired genuine intentions for supporting and growing the entrepreneurship community at Penn. Every day, I have the opportunity to speak with Penn alumni, student, and faculty founders, alongside our Co-founders and Managing Directors (and proud Penn alum!), Michael Aronson and Brett Topche, who have been invaluable mentors to me in my own journey and countless others from the Penn community.
Having the opportunity to witness this firsthand, I really couldn’t think of a better way to spend my fellowship or support the Penn community while learning more about entrepreneurship and also strengthening my own personal Penn network.
I never expected myself getting into venture capital but I am grateful for Venture For America for providing me with the opportunity to explore the field, especially given how competitive it is. In reflection, I have found that is a great stepping stone period for recent graduates to explore different sectors within the startup ecosystem. While there are a handful of fellows who switch jobs within their 2 years to gain more exposure to different fields, I have been very happy with placement at Red & Blue Ventures.