Some millennials choose their post-collegiate city for the music scene or proximity to the outdoors, or they follow friends or a significant other. Viraj Parekh chose Cincinnati the old-fashioned way: He came for the work.
Parekh, a 2016 graduate of Boston College and native of New York State, applied and was accepted to Venture for America, a two-year fellowship that matches recent college grads who aspire to be entrepreneurs to jobs in cities with emerging start-up growth. Parekh, who graduated with a degree in economics and math, along with a computer-science minor, made it through Venture for America’s competitive application process and then began looking for a job.
He’d never been to Cincinnati before, but a position at Astronomer, an Over-the-Rhine start-up that assembles and organizes data to make it easier and faster for companies to analyze it, caught his eye. There was the initial confusion over landing in a Kentucky airport for a job in Ohio, but Parekh quickly found what he was seeking.
“I was kind of agnostic on the location,” he says. “The biggest thing was a job with a tech company that gave me room to grow.”
Parekh, 23, is one of more than two dozen Venture for America fellows – including nine current fellows – drawn to Cincinnati since the program was founded in 2011 from universities such as Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke and Yale. Fellows are sent to companies in 18 cities – such as San Antonio, Denver, Miami and Baltimore – that have nascent entrepreneurial cultures but aren’t yet as established as in cities such as San Francisco or New York. Some fellows have stayed in Cincinnati after
Parekh has been pleased by his 15 months in Cincinnati so far, both by the work experience he’s gained and the support he’s found here, both at Astronomer and in the larger start-up community.
“Everybody takes a lot of pride in their start-up, and there’s definitely a lot of effort going in to making Cincinnati more start-up friendly,” Parekh says.
In addition to writing code and interacting with clients, he ran the entire Venture for America recruitment process for Astronomer in 2017. Some Venture fellows have ended up staying in Cincinnati after their fellowships ended, while others have headed east or west, ready to build on the connections they made here and evangelize for the Cincinnati start-up scene. Parekh hasn’t yet decided where he’ll end up, but wherever it may be, he’s certain his time as a Venture for America fellow will be an asset.
“It’s a fast-growing, exciting and encouraging culture. You don’t have to ask permission to do things; you say hey, I did this. Should I keep doing it?” Parekh says. “I definitely love parts of the start-up life – the constant challenge, never resting on your laurels. But it can also be more stressful than other jobs probably are, and you can never really let up.”