HackCville fellowship looks to retain UVa talent
After mulling over job offers from Wall Street firms last fall, University of Virginia fourth-year students Andy Page and Yash Tekriwal both realized they were conflicted about starting careers in finance.
“We thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we got a bunch of our friends to stay around and build companies in Charlottesville?’” Page said.
A new fellowship program will give Page, Tekriwal and nine of their UVa classmates a chance to do just that.
This week, the nonprofit talent accelerator HackCville launched the Elliewood Fellowship, a one-year program that will provide mentorship and financial support to UVa graduates starting entrepreneurial ventures in the area.
“I think this program could help to cause a sea change in Charlottesville by letting our students know that staying here is a viable option,” said Daniel Willson, HackCville’s director of operations. “This community needs more talented people to stay here and work here.”
In a UVa Career Center survey, 202 undergraduates in the Class of 2016 — about 6.1 percent of the class — listed the Charlottesville metropolitan area as their first destination after graduation. Only four graduates of the McIntire School of Commerce were included in that total.
HackCville offers courses on technical and entrepreneurial skills for UVa students and area residents, and arranges professional networking opportunities. The organization operates two clubhouses on Elliewood Avenue on the Corner.
Willson worked with HackCville’s executive director, Chip Ransler, to create the Elliewood Fellowship after learning that students on HackCville’s leadership team — including Page and Tekriwal — were torn between their entrepreneurial dreams and tempting job offers.
“It can be difficult to turn down a traditional path, especially when a job offer is right in front of you,” Willson said.
Willson said this year’s Elliewood Fellows turned down offers from elite financial firms and consulting agencies — including The Blackstone Group, Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Co. — to participate in the program.
While some of the fellows will continue to work on ventures already in progress, others are still brainstorming business ideas for the year ahead.
Ransler said many of the fellows chose to devote their extracurricular time as undergraduates to leading student clubs and other organizations, including HackCville, instead of launching a startup of their own.
“These are top students who want a shot at starting something, but need the time and space to do so,” Ransler said.
Elliewood Fellows will receive six monthly stipends of $1,500. Ransler said HackCville’s directors also will help fellows supplement their income through freelance work opportunities.
HackCville will reserve working space for Elliewood Fellows at its clubhouses and at other coworking spaces in Charlottesville.
Willson said Elliewood Fellows will be mentored by HackCville staff and members of the local business community. The city’s Office of Economic Development, the Charlottesville Business & Innovation Council, the Tom Tom Founders Festival and the Common House social club have signed on as official partners for the fellowship.
“These partners will help fellows by breaking down barriers to accessing different sources of mentorship,” Willson said.
Common House hosted a reception Wednesday evening to celebrate the inaugural class of 11 Elliewood Fellows.
Page, Tekriwal and Allison Garrett are collaborating on a project that will spin out HackCville’s “Launch” entrepreneurship course into a new online learning platform called Satellite.
“Our current college and high school system is lacking in education for entrepreneurship,” Garrett said.
“HackCville is not like a traditional student club or nonprofit,” said Tekriwal. “If you do your own thing and you do it well enough, and you care enough, they will let you run with it.”
Sophia Woods said she feels a strong connection to Charlottesville after studying the city’s architectural fabric as an urban and environmental planning major. As an Elliewood Fellow, she hopes to create an indoor-outdoor coworking space that would serve people beyond Charlottesville’s technology sector.
“When you look at our coworking spaces, there is nothing that really brings Charlottesville together and includes people from all of our cultures and socioeconomic groups,” Woods said.
Daniel Autry plans to continue developing Mindbrush, a mobile app designed to help students prioritize their mental health and wellbeing.
“The top mental health apps today bug you with so many reminders, you just forget they are there,” Autry said. “We are trying to make something that will be part of your daily routine.”
Autry said it was daunting to think about paying off his student loans as a young entrepreneur.
“I will deal with that when I have to,” he said. “For now, I am following my passion.”
Elliewood Fellowship applications for UVa’s Class of 2019 will open this fall. An early-interest form can be submitted at hackcville.com/fellowship/apply.html.