On Sept. 4, San Antonio welcomes four young, energized Venture for America (VFA) fellows. Hetali Lodaya, Emily Bowe, Camille Seyler, and Kathryn Lawhon will be joining the ranks of the city’s burgeoning startup culture.
VFA started in 2011 with the vision to place visionary, talented young graduates into the kind of stimulating startup and growth environments that will train them to become successful job creators themselves. Since the initial class of 40 fellows, the program has grown to more than 200 graduates, placed with more than 100 different companies in 12 cities. VFA added San Antonio to the list with the class of 2014, with fellows finding ideal matches among the city’s most innovative companies.
At a Geekdom reception on Sept. 4, VFA’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Yang will make remarks as fellows are introduced to the community. Before they make their official debut, the Rivard Report had the opportunity to welcome the women to town and hear a little bit about how they got here and what they think so far (they were all kind enough to give San Antonio a heat-handicap, arriving in the dog days of August).
For Hetali Lodaya, a socially-minded Tar Heel (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Venture for America was appealing as she mapped out a course to connect all of her passions.
“I loved the idea that you could combine all of the great things about the nonprofit and public sectors with the efficiency and practical learnings of the private sector to make impacting the lives of other people a part of your bottom line as an organization, not just a feel-good that’s tacked on,” said Lodaya.
Lodaya will be joining the team at VentureLab, a perfect fit for her interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, communication and policy.
“I was looking to work at a small startup where I’d get to wear a lot of hats and that had a great culture of community and mentorship, in a city that had a lot of energy and drive to grow in new ways,” Lodaya said. “VentureLab and San Antonio fit the bill on all these counts, and it was a bonus that VentureLab works in a space that I’m so interested in. We teach STEM and entrepreneurship programs for youth – kids from kindergarten all the way through high school learn to harness their natural creative energies to learn basic entrepreneurial principles and create real businesses.”
Emily Bowe is another Tar Heel with broad interests at the intersection of policy and communication, but with a design emphasis, too. She has a bachelor of science in environmental science and a minor in geography, but internships in New York City and Louisville, Kentucky, heightened her passion for the built environment.
“Much of what gets praised within the urban planning, development, and architecture communities is based particularly on high densities, which many Texas cities cannot boast,” Bowe said. “Being from Texas, I’m particularly interested in this idea of Texas urbanism, in which car-driven sprawl seems at odds with the idea of the super tall, walkable metropolis. San Antonio was interesting to me because of all of the recent development and attention being paid to the urban core.”
Her match with the 80/20 Foundation puts her near the core of a huge force for urbanization in San Antonio.
“The focus on urban options was obviously interesting to me, but as a former camp counselor for a science camp and a product of a science education, the emphasis on building better STEM education resonated with me immediately,” Bowe noted. “Even more exciting, however, was the focus on encouraging entrepreneurship in San Antonio because of the far-reaching possibilities of what one company, like Rackspace, can create in a city over time.”
Camille Seyler studies economics and environmental studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. Growing up with two parents in the start-up game, Seyler honed her interest in renewable energy sustainability through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon and internships in Buenos Aires and New Orleans.
At her core, Seyler is all about teamwork, making her a natural fit for her place at Geekdom.
“I decided to become a Venture for America fellow because it presented the best opportunity to join a team and create something larger than myself. I am so lucky to work with the Geekdom team where I can interact with entrepreneurs and support the San Antonio entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Seyler said.
Kathryn Lawhon is probably the fellow closest to home. Hailing from Georgetown, Texas, Lawhon is another UNC grad who made her way home, or at least closer to it. Lawhon studied economics and entrepreneurship with a focus in social and artistic ventures. The issue of human trafficking captured her attention, leading her across the world to Nepal to work with Tiny Hands International, and has spurred much of her research for the last three years.
As it turns out, entrepreneurship has a lot to do with preventing human trafficking by alleviating its underlying causes. It seems that to empower global entrepreneurs is to combat the vulnerability that leads to enslavement.
Lawhon has been matched with James Brehm & Associates, a small strategy, analyst and consulting firm for the machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) industry.
“This technology has a name that sounds complicated, but it simply means making devices talk to each other over the Internet – think along the lines of a connected car or connected home. We bring connectivity to certain industries to increase efficiency and reduce waste for a more dynamic and responsible world,” explained Lawhon.
She plans to take what she learns and apply it to her first love of social justice.
“Over the next two years, I hope to take these learned principles of entrepreneurship and company building and apply them to sustainable companies and organizations that fight against the widespread issue of human trafficking,” Lawhon said.
All four fellows seem quite happy in their new city, plugging into the arts and outdoor cultures flourishing around the city’s core.
“I’ve enjoyed exploring the River so far and love running on the beautiful paths on the River Walk that lead down to the Missions,” Bowe said. “My newest adventure will be Mission Kayak this weekend and I’ve got high hopes. I’m really excited to start getting into the running, biking and kayaking scene here and to find ways to get involved in the photography scene in San Antonio.”
“When I came and did my site visit in San Antonio, I could immediately tell that this city is in the midst of an exciting time. The community cares about the development of the culture, people, and place, and I could quickly feel that energy around me,” said Lawhon.
She looks forward to continuing to explore. Note to the downtown kickballers: Lawhon is the two-time reigning champion of UNC’s intramural kickball league.
Lodaya is making herself a regular local, learning the ways of the city.
“There’s so much to discover – from a dinner at Señor Veggie for a vegetarian or vegan meetup group, to learning how to drive on access roads, to the plethora of events all over the city on the weekend,” Lodaya said. “I’ve tried a bunch of different restaurants, gotten a library card, and gone to an H-E-B for the first time. It’s my goal to get out there and explore as much as possible – there’s lots to dig into in San Antonio!”
All four agreed that the locals have been warm and welcoming, as one would expect, and for Camille Seyler, that’s a high bar.
“I absolutely love San Antonio. The people here are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. As a New Orleanian, food and friendliness are really important to me. San Antonio does not disappoint,” she said.
*Featured/top image: The 2012 and 2013 Venture for America Fellows at Bootcamp. Photo courtesy of VFA.