Young grads forgo big salaries to Venture for America

Money isn't the only consideration for some recent college graduates who decided they wanted to make an impact in American communities.

Venture for America (VFA) is an organization that recruits grads to spend two years at a start-up, where they get training as an entrepreneur. The fellows, as they're called, are placed in low-cost, struggling cities around the U.S. They earn between $32,000 and $38,000 annually.

The VFA program was modeled after "Teach for America," and its mission is to revitalize cities and communities by creating opportunities and jobs for residents. It was started by 38-year-old Andrew Yang, who hopes to entice smart graduates to take on venture projects rather than follow a traditional route into consulting or banking.

The fellows' salaries come from a mix of the companies that employ them, as well as from foundations and charities. The program has 70 fellows this year, up from just 40 in 2012. They've been placed everywhere from Detroit to Providence, R.I., to New Orleans.

On Wednesday, three of the fellows joined CNBC at the New York Stock Exchange to share their experiences in the program.

"I started out initially with my heart set on finance," said Jim Kahmann, who spent two summers at Merrill Lynch during his time at Columbia University. "Working on a small team, I realized what I really enjoy is building businesses from the ground up."

Kahmann works in Cincinnati for the start-up, One More Pallet, a Web application that makes shipping more efficient by letting freight customers bid on parts of the process.

Paige Boehmcke, who graduated from Johns Hopkins University in May, will be working for Graphene Frontiers, a Philadelphia-based materials science business.

"I think start-ups and technology are some of the best ways to create jobs," she said. "I've seen so many start-ups come out of my university in nanotechnology, so that's a growing firm that deserves investment."

Finally, Sean Lane had no problem leaving Boston and heading down to Providence after graduating from Boston College. He's about half-finished with his two-year term working for Swipely, which sells payment, analytics and marketing tools to local merchants.

"The cities we're going to have made us feel like we can make an impact from the time we get there," he said.

—By CNBC's Uptin Saiidi