“Actually, it was here that I realized I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” said Miguel Avila during an interview in the 49er Foundry, the student business incubator at UNC Charlotte. Avila, a Belk College of Business senior, will graduate at Fall Commencement.
Recently, he was chosen to join the Venture for America (VFA) Fellowship program after a highly selective process. With more 2,400 applications for the class of 2018, the program extended offers to less than 18 percent, and Avila is the first UNC Charlotte student so honored.
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. More than 70 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 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,” said Grinberg. “We like to think that we encourage more early risk taking.”
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.
Avila’s journey began as a sophomore; he discovered Ventureprise, UNC Charlotte’s innovation and entrepreneurship center, and he dove into the startup scene on campus. He 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 participating in Venturprise’s core 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 believed differentiated him 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 that resulted in his acceptance, Avila must choose his host city.
“Right now I’m doing my research and think I’ve narrowed it down to Philadelphia, Miami or Columbus,” he said.
During the summer, he will attend training in Detroit and then continue his journey in a new city in fall 2019.
As he stated, “I’m going in with the mindset to create jobs and start a company.”