Taking on Detroit

August 5, 2013
Amanda Nagy
Detroit Industry mural
Diego Rivera immortalized Detroit’s industrial heyday in his Detroit Industry murals. Matthew Fish ’13 says he plans to use his training to “help rebuild Detroit through innovation and job creation.” Photo credit: Ashley Street/Wikimedia

Matthew Fish says Oberlin taught him to think creatively and do things that can change the world. The May 2013 graduate is already on the right track.

Fish, who majored in economics and law and society, just completed a two-month training camp at Brown University with the 2013 Venture for America (VFA) fellows. Now, he starts work in his native Detroit, where he will gain hands-on entrepreneurship training and learn the skills necessary to build companies and create jobs.

Venture for America is a fairly new nonprofit organization that selects high-performing graduates to work in cities that aren’t the usual magnets for young college graduates — Cleveland, Las Vegas, and New Orleans are among the partner cities. The program connects graduates to the local start-up scene through relationships with foundations and local government, much as Teach for America connects graduates to jobs in schools in underserved areas.

Venture for America’s core mission is job generation. The organization says its immediate goal

is to generate 100,000 new jobs in the United States by 2025. Fellows work for two years at emerging start-ups and early-stage companies. The goal is that a substantial proportion of VFA Fellows will become successful entrepreneurs, preferably rooted in the communities to which they are assigned. Detroit, which declared bankruptcy in July, has a critical need for the talent and innovation that VFA promises.

Fish will spend the next two years working for Quicken Loans as a marketing program specialist, learning everything from market research to television promotions. Throughout the fellowship, he will have the opportunity to meet with influential leaders in the city and apply for funding for his own entrepreneurial projects while he works.

Fish says he became fascinated with the startup world during an internship with Detroit Venture Partners, a venture capital firm led by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert. Following that internship, he started an online interactive community guide in his hometown of Lake Orion, a Detroit suburb. “I was probably a little ahead of myself starting a business while trying to finish college, but I learned a tremendous amount, and it helped me get here today.”

In the VFA training camp at Brown, fellows split up into teams to complete a variety of challenges. In one challenge, Fish says his team had to identify a problem in the community and find a solution, then follow through by creating a scalable business model. In another challenge, Fish and his team had to make as much profit as possible in the span of 10 days. Along with daily training sessions, fellows heard talks from entrepreneurs and investors, including Bill Gates.

Fish says he feels fortunate to return to the city he loves. “I absolutely love Detroit and am excited to be living right downtown,” he says. “At Quicken Loans I work on two different teams, one focused on digital advertising and the other non-digital. I am being exposed to all sides of marketing, rather than settling right in to just one aspect of the field. Whether I stay with Quicken Loans or pursue other interests, I plan on using my training to help rebuild Detroit through innovation and job creation.”

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