Senior To Work at Detroit Start-Up

While many college seniors are eagerly anticipating their launch into the “real world,” Gaibrielle A. Bryant ’12 returned for the spring term with a job offer that might take her right back to her hometown of Detroit—and she is thrilled.

Bryant is one of 28 college seniors from across the country selected by Venture for America to work, fully-paid, at start-ups in four American cities prime for economic revival: Cincinnati, Detroit, New Orleans, and Providence.

The program, which connects enterprising students with two-year jobs at start-ups, received about 250 applications for its inaugural application cycle this fall.

Bryant is the only student from Harvard to be selected.

“She’s a Detroit native, so her passion to revitalize is very clear,” said Eileen S. Lee, VFA chief operations officer. “There was a general consensus that she would make an immediate positive impact wherever she went.”

Not everyone supported Bryant’s choice to pursue a job in Detroit.

“I got a lot of push back from family and friends about coming to Detroit,” she explained. “They don’t see any potential in Detroit—they think if I come back I’ll get stuck.”

But Bryant is committed to drawing out the city’s potential. “I’ve been seeing what’s been going on in [Detroit] for a long time now,” she said. “I want to be a part of that, and I want to help—I believe that’s the way that a city comes back from economic hardships.”

Bryant was selected as one of 46 applicants invited to a final selection day in New York City on Jan. 20, during which she participated in group activities with other applicants and individual interviews with VFA staff members.

“It’s a weird experience because you are actually with a group of people—you’re making connections with them,” Bryant said.

The extensive application process might have deterred many prospective applicants, Lee said. More than one thousand people registered online accounts with VFA in the fall, she said, but only about 250 completed applications by the Nov. 28 deadline.

VFA hopes to push the application process even earlier next year to stay competitive with finance and consulting deadlines, according to Lee.

Bryant acknowledged the draw of finance and consulting, especially at Harvard, but suggested that many students turn to those fields simply because they are anxious to get a lucrative job quickly.

“I wanted more than just a job. I wanted the experience and to do something that I was proud of,” she said. “I don’t have an $80,000 job, but I’m actually okay with that.”

Bryant hopes to launch her own start-up: an incubator. “What I would maybe one day start in Detroit is an artist incubator—creating a space where artists could perform or create,” she said. “I think that Detroit’s such a cultural place.”

VFA is accepting applications through Feb. 20 for 20 to 25 more fellows to be selected later this spring. About eight of the approximately 1,500 applications already started are from Harvard, according to Lee.

—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at radhikajain@college.harvard.edu.

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