Brian Rudolph is on a mission to change pasta forever. Unable to find a nutritious pasta he liked, he set out to make his own. Brian became obsessed with chickpea flour, which led to his creating the first-ever chickpea pasta, and then to launching Banza in 2014 at the age of 23 with his brother Scott. A lucky break to appear on CNBC’s reality series Restaurant Startup led to heartbreak for Brian when they sunk $100,000 into a big run to meet sudden demands from supermarkets and the pasta turned to mush. Brian then worked obsessively for months in a factory in Northern Michigan to figure out how to make his pasta in large batches. A year later TIME Magazine named Banza one of the Top 25 Inventions of 2015, and they won the $500,000 first prize in Accelerate Michigan’s pitch competition. In 2016 Brian was named to Forbes’ list of 30 Under 30 in Food, Crain’s Detroit 20 in their 20’s and Entrepreneur of the Year by Michigan State University. Banza is now in over 2500 stores nationally, the company has helped create 32 new jobs, and they recently opened a factory in California. Brian originally moved to Detroit as a 2012 Venture for America Fellow and worked for two years as the first employee at the startup Quikly. He received his BBA from Emory University.
Avery moved to Detroit in August 2014 to join Banza as the first full- time employee, pairing his interest in entrepreneurship with his love of food. Since then he has worked (almost literally) around the clock in all areas of the business. Despite the grueling hours, Avery loves the thrill of working with a team to build something concrete from nothing. In high school Avery founded RelightNY, a nationally recognized environmental charity which raised $250,000 to buy and distribute energy-efficient light bulbs to low-income families in New York City. During his senior year of college, Avery helped his brother launch the fast-casual restaurant The Nugget Spot in Manhattan. When he isn’t working, he’s playing basketball and teaching himself how to cook. Avery graduated from Cornell University in 2014 with a BA in Art History and is in the 2014 Venture for America class.
While some of Dextina’s fellow students from MIT moved to Detroit to take lucrative jobs at the car companies, this 2015 MIT graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and Product Development opted instead to join the growing startup community there, inspired by Venture for America’s mission. When she moved to Detroit in August, she worked for Rock Ventures for several months, helping oversee their investments in startups and nonprofits in Detroit, but quickly realized she missed building things. Dextina now works at the startup Shinola as a Mechanical Engineer where she is part of the team creating a line of Shinola Audio products. Dextina and her brother were raised by a single mom from Guyana who worked multiple jobs to provide for them, and attributes her resourcefulness to her mom. Dextina, recipient of the prestigious Times Scholarship in 2011 and other grants and awards, is grateful to the many teachers who opened her eyes to opportunities when she was growing up. Living in Guyana for three years with her mom when she was younger, Dextina was also turned on to traveling. While at MIT Dextina travelled to Turkey, Israel, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland where she studied, taught STEM subjects, worked at startups and learned about people and cultures. Whether it’s building opportunities or physical products, it’s important to Dextina to be creating rather than just consuming. Dextina is driven to make quality products and create quality jobs for the underserved and traditionally overlooked. She tutors regularly at Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program. Dextina is part of the 2015 Venture for America class.
Labib moved to Detroit in August 2014 to work as a product manager for Mason, an early stage startup building android smart phones and tablets, where he was the first employee. His parents, immigrants from Bangladesh who went into debt to send him to Johns Hopkins University, had a different path in mind. They expected Labib, the first person in his family to graduate from college, to parlay his degree in Biomedical Engineering into a high-paying, secure job. Labib’s entrepreneurial passion began long before Mason. While in college he co-founded Medella Medical, which worked with various departments at Johns Hopkins to develop a more user-friendly digital health record platform. He also built an android app to help physicians and midwives in the developing world better adhere to childbirth safety guidelines. Eager to help his parents financially, in early 2016 Labib took a well-paying job at an established company, IPC Systems, as a product manager. On nights and weekends he is launching a startup with his brother to connect clothing manufacturers in the US with factories in Bangladesh that use fair labor practices, hoping to use technology to create a more efficient market and drive job growth in Bangladesh where he spent much of his young life. Labib is part of the 2014 Venture for America class.
Kate moved to Detroit in 2013 to work at Grand Circus, a startup that provides tech training. Inspired by the life- changing impact that technical training had on Grand Circus students, Kate dove into the intensive Detroit Labs Apprenticeship program where she learned to code and was then hired to work on the DTE Energy app. Committed to closing the gender gap in the startup and tech worlds, Kate launched Women Rising in 2014 as a side project, which she hopes will be the foundation for her own startup one day. Women Rising helps women in tech find peers and mentors in order to advance their careers. Drawing on her experience in high school and during a gap year as a youth activist for the environment working on local, statewide and UN campaigns, Kate now speaks often at conferences and other venues about her new cause: attracting and retaining women in tech. Kate recently discovered she loves to develop sales deals more than software, so she now works in business development for Detroit Labs, which she finds incredibly rewarding. While she loves Detroit, this outdoors-woman from Washington State now works remotely from Denver where she can enjoy the mountains. Kate has a degree in Economics with a concentration in Entrepreneurship from Gonzaga University and is in the 2013 Venture for America class.
When Max was writing and directing musicals as a creative writing major at Wesleyan University, he never imagined he would soon be Co-Founder and CEO of Castle, a high-tech reinvention of property management. Max moved to Detroit in 2012 to join the startup Are You a Human where he did marketing, design and web development. In 2013, he teamed up with VFA Fellows and future Castle Co-Founders Tim Dingman and Scott Lowe (and a fourth partner, Sean Jackson), to buy and renovate an abandoned mansion in Detroit’s Virginia Park Historic District. Castle grew out of Max, Tim and Scott’s working together on the house, which is now home to seven entrepreneurs and two companies; Castle and Banza work out of the ground floor. Though Castle almost folded because the trio kept “pivoting” at first and ran out of money, the company is now thriving. They were chosen to join the prestigious Y Combinator program in 2016, one of the world’s most powerful startup incubators, just raised $2 million from a leading Silicon Valley venture firm, and have hired 8 employees, with more joining soon. Castle continues to grow their business in Detroit, with plans to launch in other cities around the country in the near future. Max is a graduate of Wesleyan University and in the 2012 Venture for America class.