Elizabeth Brake

Director, Ohio for Venture for America

2013 Ph.D. Graduate in History

Current Employer: Director of Ohio for Venture for America

Elizabeth Brake received her Ph.D. in History in 2013 and was a postdoctoral associate in Duke’s Fuqua School of Business from 2013-2016. Brake is now the director of Ohio for Venture for America, a fellowship program that connects startups with recent college graduates to foster economic growth and entrepreneurship in American cities.  She lives near Cleveland, Ohio.

Tell me a bit about your current job. What do you like the most about it? What do you like the least, if anything?

I am currently the director of Ohio for Venture for America, which is a fellowship program that connects startups in cities that have emerging entrepreneurial ecosystems with talented, enterprising recent college graduates. We operate in eighteen cities, including Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus. My role is threefold: 1) support Ohio Fellows through programming and mentoring, 2) identify local startups that offer great opportunities for Fellows and support them through the hiring process, and 3) maintain relationships with regional donors whose gifts and grants make VFA’s work possible.

My favorite part about my current job is working with the VFA Fellows. They are very similar to the students with whom I worked in the Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) program at Duke. Actually, many VFA fellows are Duke alumni so, in some cases, they are literally the same people. Working with them involves all the things I like about teaching – mentoring and helping them get to be where they want to be -- but without the trouble of making a syllabus or grading. They're driven and ambitious, but also quite thoughtful about what they want to do and where they want to go. Having the opportunity to work with them on a daily basis is just really wonderful.

Perhaps the hardest adjustment was adapting to the volume of messages I send and receive every day. My role is cross-functional: I belong to the fundraising team, the programs team, and the company partnerships team. This means I have to juggle all three teams’ priorities and maintain relationships with external stakeholders. It requires a lot of email traffic and keeping in touch with many people throughout the day in ways that I didn't have to do while I was a graduate student.


Read more about Elizabeth, including how her career plans at Duke changed, and advice she has for students, in her Alumni Profile, written by Ph.D. in History student Ashton Merck.


Elizabeth Brake