UNC Charlotte Student Awarded Venture for America Fellowship

Miguel Avila, a Belk College of Business senior at UNC Charlotte, has been chosen to join the Venture for America (VFA) Fellowship.

VFA is a two-year fellowship program for recent college graduates interested in entrepreneurship. Barrie Grinberg, senior director of community partnerships at VFA, said its mission is to create economic opportunity in American cities by mobilizing the next generation of entrepreneurs and equipping them with the skills and resources they need to create jobs.  

Seventy-three percent of VFA alumni hold leadership positions at a startup while 20 percent launch their own company.

“We have built in early stage programming, an extensive external network built of entrepreneurs, executives, investors, etc., and make investments in these companies directly from VFA, which gives our founders an advantage that they would not have had without the VFA program. We like to think that we encourage more early risk taking,” Grinberg explained.

Building a pipeline of entrepreneurial talent is crucial, with about 60 percent of VFA alumni staying on in their city after the Fellowship and continuing to work in the startup industry. Charlotte is one of 14 cities where fellows live and work and has hosted 30 VFA fellows since the program debuted here in 2015.

Although Charlotte has been a host to several VFA Fellows, Avila is the first UNC Charlotte student to be selected as a Fellow. As for the area, four Davidson College students have participated in the program since 2014. The process is highly selective; with over 2,400 applications for the class of 2018, the program extended offers to less than 18% of applicants.

Avila’s journey began on UNC Charlotte’s campus. As a sophomore he discovered Ventureprise, UNC Charlotte’s innovation and entrepreneurship center, and dove into the startup scene on campus. Avila took on several tasks at Ventureprise: recruiting students, professor and faculty for programming, organizing and promoting pitch and networking events, designing the university’s entrepreneurial website, and eventually participating in Venturprise’s core university program, Ventureprise Launch NSF I-Corps.

This customer discovery course is designed to give professors and students the fundamentals to commercialize their research and ideas. While working with the researchers, entrepreneurs and Ventureprise staff, Avila founded Encapture Reality, an immersive 3D company offering virtual tours.

Starting his own company is something that he feels set him apart from other VFA applicants.

“Miguel is tenacious in how he pursues opportunities, he not only formed a company but actually had paying customers, a rare feat for student entrepreneurs,” said Devin Collins, Interim Executive Director of Ventureprise.  

With the knowledge he gained through Ventureprise programming and his involvement in the Charlotte startup community, Avila met a VFA fellow a local startup event and became interested in all the resources, experiences and opportunities the program has to offer.

After an eight-week selection process leading to his acceptance, Avila’s next step is to choose his host city. This summer he will attend training in Detroit and then continue his journey in a new city this fall. “I’m going in with the mindset to create jobs and start a company.”