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VFA Training Camp: Week 2

Hustle and camp and hustle and camp and sleep and camp.

Providence days and Providence nights.

The city suffers no lack of photogenic appeal no matter what time of the day I run. VFA threw the fellows another action-filled week of programming in New England, but I’m now much more confident that I’m starting to find my pace in this marathon of a bootcamp.

Training and Challenges

Week two training intensified. McKinsey analysts led a two-day workshop spanning everything from high-level strategy to interpersonal communication (read: how to nicely tell someone you disagree). This in addition to a 83-slide presentation on “Growth Hacking” and break out sessions covering everything from sales operations to digital marketing meant a lot of note taking, mock exercises and running around like it was a freshman year of college.

tabs on tabs on tabs.

The trainings occupied the day, and the VFA challenges occupied the night. Every fellow had to develop and present a personal Pecha Kucha (five minute presentation, 15 slides, automatically advances the slide every 20 seconds) to perform in front of the whole class. Some people deeply explored their racial identity in the context of post-modern America. Others gave presentations about why short dogs are awesome. We had variety.

It’s a good way to get to know people quickly, but the Pecha Kuchas only took us through Wednesday—and so we moved on to the Profit Challenge. This challenge is summed in the name: find a way via crowd funding/direct sales/partnerships to make as much money as possible by next Friday. My team is exploring many serious options right now, but I managed to use some free time to launch a spoof crowd fund to elect a banana as the next president of the United States.

“He’s not about making a name for himself, he’s about rallying the American people around a candidate who won’t go rotten by the time he or she enters office.”

Never thought I would email press releases to The Onion and Huffington Post about the first independent, foreign-raised, non-human candidate to make a bid for the presidency. What’s life if you’re not having a little fun? (and besides, this humor strategy worked great for Potato Salad Guy.)

The Older Fellows

Old fellows from across the nation return to Providence in the second week of camp each year. They come to train the new class, catch up with their own class and take a few days to regroup with VFA. The old fellows lived in the same dorms as we did, which meant 300+ 22-27-year olds all living in a college dorm.

Closing dinner with all the fellows to celebrate 2013 graduates. They had clam at the party, so you know things got classy.

The old fellows spent a good portion of their time in Providence training us. Topics ranged from hard skills (sales/marketing/side project management) to the more intangible (how to handle stress/depression/adversity while working at startups in a new city). They aren’t much older than me, but a couple years at early-stage companies seemed to season them pretty quickly.

It was cool meeting older VFA fellows who are out and already launching companies. I actually got to talk with the founder of Banza, the company my team made a website for the previous week. The guy is 25 and is employing 15 people in a manufacturing plant in Michigan. Not everyone picks this road right after the fellowship—but it’s great to see that VFA is producing job-creating entrepreneurs.

Another cool variable about this was bringing together all the University of Oklahoma fellows. There are six OU VFA fellows from the first four years of the program, and we all got breakfast during the week. We may not all be life-long friends now, but there is something tangible about an alma mater connection.

Reflection

The pace of camp is quick, and there is not much time to breathe during the week. Once the weekend hits, however, there is plenty of time to unwind. I spend my time hiking and practicing my new hobby: tree climbing. So far I’ve found two good climbs on campus.

Neutconkanut Park, the highest point in Providence.
Resting at lookout point.
Bearded selfie.

Fellows at camp are getting much more real with each other as time progresses. The barriers are breaking down pretty quickly as an in-the-foxhole-together camaraderie begins to build here. It’s getting easier to see how the older fellows’ networks are so tight—five weeks of going at this pace solidifies strong friendships.

I think it hit me during the 4th of July celebration this weekend. Half of my class spread out on the India Point Park hill with blankets as the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra played Star Wars on a 70 degree summer evening. Fireworks went off over the river in synchronization with the music—an ideal American holiday. Even though I’ve only spent two weeks with these people and won’t see many of them regularly again after three more weeks, there is a sort of Kumbaya-campfire feel.

It only lasts a few more weeks before the real-world work begins, but I’ll take it while I can get it.

Here’s 90 seconds of continuous Rhode Island fireworks. Happy 4th of July Weekend, y’all.

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