Friday I was told that I would not be considered for the inaugural class of Venture for America Fellows.

I knew the program was a long shot. I had a 1 percent chance with 5,000 people applying for 50 fellowships. Just for perspective, the acceptance rate at Harvard this year was about 7 percent.

Venture for America, a post graduate program for America’s best young entrepreneurs, hopes to create 100,000 new jobs for the United States by 2025. The concept is simple, more entrepreneurs equals more jobs. It is a fantastic idea, and I give my best to the 2012 fellows. Below you will find my responses to some of the essay questions.

I know that forgone opportunities only lead to new ones, and will continue to look optimistically towards the future. I would like to thank everybody that supported me. I want to give a special thanks to Michael Isaacs, Dale Vaughn and Lauren Smith for writing letters of recommendation.

Why did you choose to apply to the Venture for America Fellowship Program? What do you hope to learn from the experience as a Fellow? Be specific.

The premise behind Venture for America is one that I deeply believe. The creative force in an economy is the entrepreneur. It is the entrepreneur that creates jobs, wealth and value for himself and others. When the economy turns around it won’t be because of politicians, brokers or lawyers – it will be because entrepreneurs took a risk to create value. I want to be one of those people out creating value.

I made my first foray into entrepreneurship my junior year of college with a business called FRUGGL. I jumped into it blind, and full of enthusiasm. FRUGGL was a social coupon website that offered college students discounts to local shops, or restaurants every week. It was created  before all of the deal website hype, when Groupon was only in a hand full of cities. I simply saw an opportunity to give deals to college students around the country.

During that time I made every mistake imaginable, some time consuming, others expensive, but all great educational experiences.

Looking back, I could have build a successful business for practically nothing. Facebook, a WordPress template, MailChimp and a charming smile would have sufficed. Instead I went with business cards, fancy handouts and a custom-built website.

So, what do I hope to learn from Venture for America?

I have learned a great deal about building a business on my own, but I think it is time for me to learn from those who have failed before. I want to understand their journey, and I want to help others succeed.

Entrepreneurs have experiences that few others in the business world can match, because  they often fail. Where others quit they persevere. Even if they fail again, they are willing to do it over and over again.


Because, the architecture of success is failure.

What do you see yourself doing following the Venture for America Fellowship? Be specific about what you would like to do.

I want to build a Khan Academy for college entrepreneurs.

As someone who built a startup while in college, I quickly became aware of the shortcomings of a traditional education. Modern business education focuses mostly on old theory and less on practical business knowledge. Practical information you can take home and immediately start figuring things out.

When I needed information there were no classes about Facebook Ads, blogging or customer development. I had to scrape knowledge together from far reaches of the internet and learn by trial.

I have been working with the Auburn Student Entrepreneurship Organization to create a workshop that helps students experiment with new business ideas and test them in a week. Most students look at entrepreneurship and think they need to build a $10,000 piece of software, when really they just need to get out of the classroom and test basic concepts.

I want to help build entrepreneurs just like Venture for America; however, I think the best time to start giving entrepreneurs the right tools is before they graduate college.

One feature of entrepreneurs is an ability to think independently.  Please identify one belief or idea that you feel is held by the vast majority of your peers that you disagree with, and argue your side.  

A college degree is no longer a requirement for success.

Or as Adam Davidson harshly put it in his New York Times piece, “A college degree is no longer the guarantor of a middle class existence.”

Don’t get me wrong. You are better off having a college degree than nothing; however, the value of a college degree is something that we seriously must question.

The cost of a college degree has risen more than 400 percent in the last 30 years not accounting for inflation. How much has the value of a college degree increased?

I would argue that the overall value of a college degree has actually decreased. I know many who are unemployed, underemployed, or working entry-level jobs at $10 an hour. The combined unemployment and underemployment rate for college graduates last year who are under 25 was around 45 percent (Most articles cite college graduate employment for those older than 25).

In-state tuition at the University of Georgia is shy of $9,500 a year. That doesn’t including room, books and other living expenses. Some might say that$38,000  is an appropriate price for an undergraduate college degree, but what else could you do with that money?

I am currently working on a post that questions how individuals could get a better education by spending tuition money on other life experiences. Workshops with authors, studying abroad and internships. There are other ways to spend money on your education than tuition.

Often those who have had success in business were failures in school. Sure it’s easy to look at Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg and see they didn’t finish school, but there are many others. Ask Michael Ellsberg, author of The Education of Millionaires, what is the common denominator in their formal education? The common denominator is they did not have, left or discounted their formal education.

A college degree is no longer a requirement for success.

Unfortunately, in a country where the average student loan debt is $25,000, I would say a college degree can be an obstacle to success.

In 25 words or less, what motivates you?

The keys to the next golden age lie somewhere between education and entrepreneurship. I want to find those keys.

Please read the essay provided at:

Write a 100 word reaction to this essay as it relates to you. 

Our world has leaders, and those in power.

Leaders know themselves. They know their purpose, their ideals and their beliefs. Those in power do not know themselves. They have been elevated by conforming to the purpose, ideals and beliefs of others.

Leaders are followed, because others want to follow them.  Those in power are followed because others must follow them.

We have a leadership crisis in this country. We have many of those in power and few leaders.

Our education system is at the core of this crisis. It rewards conformity, and punishes diverse thought. How can we build leaders when we are training conformists?


This article is from the archives.

Posted by:Sam Solomon

I'm a designer, writer and tinkerer. I currently lead workflow and design systems at Salesloft.