Franklin businesswoman Randy Rubin speaks at Venture for America training program to inspire young professionals to become the next generation of leaders.
With the idea of continuing the rejuvenation of Detroit’s economic landscape, as well as providing opportunities across the country, dynamic young adults are creating cutting-edge businesses and extolling the city.Their success is thanks to the Venture for America (VFA) Fellows Training Camp and the efforts of VFA National Board chairperson and Michigan businesswoman Randy Rubin.
What is VFA?
Founded in 2011 by Andrew Yang, VFA is a New York-based nonprofit whose mission is “creating 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.”
After their acceptance into VFA, some 200 entrepreneurial-minded graduates from colleges and universities, including Harvard, University of Michigan, Duke and UCLA, came to Detroit to participate in an intensive month-long summertime program, where they were taught and mentored by investors, venture capitalists and innovation firms in business skills such as web design, entrepreneurship and public speaking. Fellows were then placed in companies in economically challenged areas nationwide for a two-year fellowship, with the goal of advancing in and creating jobs for their companies or starting their own companies and becoming employers themselves.
Meet Randy Rubin
Who better to serve as a VFA board member than philanthropist, active Jewish community member and Franklin resident Rubin, a successful businesswoman in her own right? Along with husband, Craig, she co-founded the Crypton Companies (Crypton LLC and Nanotex LLC, providers of performance fabrics in the contract, home furnishings and apparel markets) and is co-chairman of Rubin Investment Holdings LLC. Her latest business venture is a calculated load-stabilizing device, created to lock down large hauls on flatbed trucks.
As one of the founding members of Temple Shir Shalom, she has made giving back an integral value in her life. Nowhere is this more evident than in her commitment to VFA.
“I’m a woman on my seventh career,” said Rubin, a Wayne State University graduate, to participants at the recent VFA training program in July. “Teacher, paralegal, trainer, conference director/spokesperson, marketing consultant, textile owner. And I typically put the VFA before most of my other ventures.
“I got involved with VFA after countless meetings with nonprofit organizations. I couldn’t find that special spark I was looking for until VFA and ended up on the national board two years ago.
“It’s a small board of amazingly talented people with a staff and director who are eager and ready to learn and implement. I’m on the national board, and I see such an advantage being able to participate on a local level as well. And it’s a place where I can make a difference with the fellows and the companies where they’re placed.”
But making a difference is more than just successful performance in the business world, Rubin said. “More important than anything are my children — Daniel Stern and Melissa Meltzer, both who live in Michigan — and my grandchildren. I take full advantage of having them here. I know how incredible it is to be able to go to all the Little League games, the school events, ‘Grandma Tuesdays’ and so on. I do kvell over the VFA Fellows, too — almost as if they are my own kids!”
Those “kids” include three VFA participants who, under the tutelage of Rubin and other business mentors, have been inspired to become the new generation of workplace leaders. Now living in the heart of Detroit, Abbie Spector hails from Devon, Pa., and Avi Atkin and Lauren Hoffman are former New Yorkers.
The Next Generation of Leaders
“I learned about VFA through a chance meeting with Andrew Yang and became a VFA fellow when I graduated in 2016,” said Avi Atkin, product manager at Ford Autonomous Vehicles. “My favorite part of the experience has been getting to know the other fellows and alumni. One of the core values Randy and VFA have taught me is our impact at work should extend not just within the businesses we run, but also in the communities we touch. In my current job, I work to not only build a business for self-driving cars, but to make sure we solve transportation problems for the elderly, for single parents and for the broader community.”
Abbie Spector, project manager at Rocket Fiber, a technology start-up providing internet services to Detroit residents and businesses, is a 2017 fellow who learned about VFA from a classmate at Middlebury College in Vermont.
“VFA’s social and professional network afforded me the opportunity to move to a city I otherwise would have overlooked, and provided the perfect avenue to combine my passion for urban geography and community development with my desire to work in a fast-paced, entrepreneurial setting,” Spector said. “VFA is at once a training program, a social network and a career jump starter. Through VFA, I’ve been fortunate to learn from experienced entrepreneurs, grow into my project management role, connect with talented leaders in and around Detroit, and build lasting friendships.”
Lauren Hoffman, who works at Rock Ventures in Detroit, the holding company for Dan Gilbert’s portfolio of companies, investments and real estate holdings, agreed. “VFA has a transformative impact on its fellows. It’s almost a surrogate for business school, in the level of training and excellence of the network one builds through the experience. It makes starting companies feel accessible. Some of the most valuable business competencies I’ve learned are to expect it will be hard, and to grind through uncertainty and deeply unsexy grunt work to do anything interesting and execute your best ideas, and to ask questions of the brilliant people who have built similar products, services or companies because they can and will generously want to share valuable advice.”
VFA has become her passion, Rubin said. “I get such joy from helping these fellows and their ventures.
“I want nothing more than to see these young people succeed. When I take friends or business associates to training camp challenges, they are blown away by the talent. You can’t revitalize New York, but you can help reinvent Detroit. This is a huge pull for these young entrepreneurs. They want to create products and services that create change, and that’s what Detroit is all about!”