Floyd Jones connected with a venture fellowship that will teach him how to build a company and then help him start his own.
By Ruth Steinhardt
Floyd Jones graduated from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in 2015 in a position many seniors would envy. He had a full-time job secured at the nonprofit organization where he had already been working part-time—a job he’d found through GWork.
So a year later, when he felt the need for new challenges, he turned again to his alma mater.
“Nothing was wrong [at my job], I was just approaching the two-year mark, and I had gotten a little complacent,” Mr. Jones said. “I wasn’t really progressing. I was ready for the next adventure, and it just happened that there was a career fair happening at GW right at that moment.”
He signed up to attend. As the fair approached, Mr. Jones, B.A. ’15, set aside time to clarify what he wanted out of his next job—and his next employer.
“I knew I wanted to work for a for-profit business to sharpen my entrepreneurial skills,” Mr. Jones said.
An international affairs and music major, he worked in the nonprofit sector at graduation but had always had an interest in entrepreneurship. As a senior he even competed in the GWupstart social venture prize track of the New Venture Competition, making the competition’s final round with a company that would distribute affordable smartphones and extend Internet access for telecommunication firms in West Africa.
But learning the ins and outs of the business world was just part of the goal for Mr. Jones, a classically-trained singer who came to GW as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts. “I also really wanted to do something creative,” he said.
Knowing that much, Mr. Jones said, “I did my homework.” He perused the list of organizations attending the career fair and decided on a few that would take him where he wanted to go in the way he wanted to get there. Those would be his focus.
“I didn’t want to just go in [to the fair] at random,” Mr. Jones said. “I wanted to know who I was reaching out to and what questions to ask.”
One organization stood out: Venture for America, a fellowship program that connects college graduates with startup companies in economically challenged American cities. Once VFA fellows have completed two years helping to build and expand their assigned company, they receive capital and resources to start their own ventures.
“It sounded like everything I wanted,” Mr. Jones said.
At the career fair, Mr. Jones remembered, VFA’s booth was actually the closest to the entrance. For the first hour or so he skirted around it, he said, wanting to settle his nerves a little before he approached the company that already felt “like home.”
When he finally approached, the woman staffing the booth was herself a GW alumna, a VFA fellow named Hannah White. She not only passed on his name to others at VFA, Mr. Jones said, but also offered to help him through the intense application—an arduous several-round process involving online submission of materials, a Skype interview and an “intense” day of in-person interviews in New York City.
Mr. Jones credits her with helping him land the VFA fellowship he is now beginning.
“It was really a testament to how GW students can rely on and help each other out, even after you get out into the world,” Mr. Jones said. The two are still close friends.
The past few months have been busy ones for Mr. Jones as he moves through VFA’s preparatory program, including an intensive five-week training camp at Brown University. In April, he will begin VFA’s weeks-long “match” procedure, which he compared to online dating for fellows and startups. He and his classmates will rotate between a number of startups in the program’s 18 cities, and then will be placed at one. Mr. Jones is most interested in a placement in the entertainment and media field or in social entrepreneurship.
“Mostly I’m really just looking forward to growing my skills in a brand new surrounding, a new city, a new community,” he said. “And I’m also focused on what I’ll do afterward, and what kind of company I’ll want to lead.”
Mr. Jones also used volunteer experience to advance his career options. Heavily involved in his home church in Gaithersburg, Md., he volunteered to create a social media presence that would help get parishoners more involved in social justice.
“So when I went to [my interview] at VFA I was able to show them portfolios, ad campaigns, that I had been entrusted with one of biggest budgets in the entire church and was leading a team of eight people, “ Mr. Jones said. “I was really lucky to have those opportunities, and I can apply them to any job I go into.”
But more than anything, Mr. Jones said, job seekers should take time to themselves to clarify their goals and strengthen their focus. He said he tries to take a “mini-trip,” even just a weekend in an unfamiliar city, at least once a quarter to clear his head and re-evaluate his direction.
“I think personal reflection is the most important thing,” Mr. Jones said. “It’s so easy to get lost in the shuffle and let life happen to you, but we have so many opportunities at our fingertips—we have to make life happen for ourselves.”
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