Venture for America is a fellowship program that places college grads in existing start-up businesses to give them experience with entrepreneurship, and possibly to inspire them to establish their own ventures. Generation Startup is less a documentary than a slick, ninety-minute infomercial for the program.
It follows four recent graduates, plus a pair of entrepreneurs, as they take their first steps into the business world. The grads find themselves in direct, daily contact with the owners of nascent businesses; the founders of the two start-ups meet with potential investors and build out their infrastructure. It’s not very interesting!
All of the start-ups documented in the film are located in Detroit. Thanks to decades of decline in American rolling steel, and the Mortal Kombat spine-ripping finishing move that was the 2008 financial collapse, it’s extraordinarily inexpensive to live and start a business there. If you prefer more pastoral imagery, Detroit is like a field that has been bludgeoned and ripped up with a plow, and now is being sowed by young people who have a lot of energy but not the incomes and expectations held by past generations of job-market entrants. The city looks vital and young here, a contrast to the post-apocalyptic photos of decaying factories that often represent it.
Generation Startup plays it awfully safe for a film about a group of risk-takers, omitting the inevitable screw-ups of entrepreneurs, downplaying anxieties, and focusing instead on hurdles surpassed and hopes kindled. It looks like the recruitment appeal that it is; it will probably be pretty effective on campuses.
Directed by Cheryl Miller Houser and Cynthia Wade
Opens September 23, IFC Center