Pitch your solution.
Underrepresented students and early career professionals lack the confidence and network to successfully navigate their career path. Employers find it hard to attract, engage and retain underrepresented talent and underutilize employee resource groups. ERG members want to support their company's goals and develop their leadership, but lack bandwidth.
The Mentor Spaces platform allows corporate mentors to communicate with less experienced colleagues and prospective employees in career interest-based groups. The UX features asynchronous communication via Q&A to best facilitate personalized professional development and network building on one's own time. The technology matches early career professionals with the most relevant spaces based on career interests and development goals. Each space features vetted advice, resources, internship/job opportunities, and events.
The result is an intuitive user experience that builds confidence and social capital while achieving our customers’ goals.
At scale we would efficiently advance careers, leading to higher salaries and faster rate of promotion.
What specific problem are you solving?
Black, Latinx and Indigenous students and early career professionals lack the confidence, network and social capital to efficiently transition into the workforce and advance their careers in lucrative career paths. According to the NY Fed, 44% percent of college graduates in their 20s are stuck in low wage, dead-end jobs, the highest rate in decades; Young people making less than $25,000 a year has spiked to the highest level since the 1990s. The statistics are more alarming for underrepresented minorities. Furthermore, Covid-19 has caused existing communities, whether in college/training organization or within corporate environments, to become disaggregated as many individuals are isolating at home.
Despite spending $8 billion annually on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion objectives, employers find it hard to attract, engage and retain underrepresented talent. Siloed HR teams miss opportunities to collaborate with employee networks or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to support talent acquisition, employer branding and retention opportunities. ERG members want to support their company's goals, but lack the bandwidth to adequately contribute.
While there is an existing ecosystem of university career services/alumni offices, non-profit support organizations/associations and workforce agencies that want to innovate, they lack the technological competencies necessary to effectively affect systemic change.
What is your solution?
The Mentor Spaces web & mobile platform allows corporate mentors to communicate with less experienced colleagues and prospective employees in career interest-based groups. The UX features asynchronous communication via Q&A to best facilitate personalized professional development and network building on one's own time.
The technology leverages machine learning and AI to match early career professionals with the most relevant groups (spaces) based on their career interests and development goals. Each space features vetted advice, resources, internship/job opportunities, training providers and events recommended by people with expertise and curated by our technology.
The result is an intuitive user experience that builds confidence and social capital among our users, technological infrastructure for under-resourced Minority Serving Institutions and non-profit support organizations while supporting our customers' recruiting and retention workflows.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Our solution serves Black, Latinx and Indigenous students and early career professionals (learners) attending Minority Serving Institutions, alternative post-secondary training providers, and/or currently "stuck" trying to navigate along their career journey.
They are between the ages of 18-30 and can be described as non-traditional students/learners. They are first generation college students/grads, Pell eligible, and are oftentimes learning while being a caregiver and working.
The community we serve can be best described as overwhelmed because they realize they lack the time, resources and networks that would allow them to make career decisions with confidence.
We've researched nearly 10,000 learners from this community across 40 HBCUs for 2.5 years after receiving an "Innovations in Career Pathways" grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We concluded that if students are able to efficiently connect alongside their peers with industry insiders who've had similar backgrounds and goals, they will have increased awareness of and confidence to better inform major declaration, class selection, experiential learning, and full-time employment opportunities.
We learned that information repositories and solo, as opposed to social, user experiences are ineffective catalysts for user engagement.
We invest heavily in UX research among all stakeholders to inform product design.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Enable learners to make informed decisions about which pathways and jobs best suit them, including promoting the benefits of non-degree pathways to employment
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Reimagining Pathways to Employment in the US Challenge and your selected dimension.
Our target audience suffers from not knowing what they don't know, and the current pandemic has made them more disconnected from individuals that have critical information to inform their decisions. Although there is an abundance of content and resources published online, there is no effective way to quickly filter and synthesize it when the target population has significant time constraints, distrust in the system, lack of confidence and limited social capital.
Our solution not only closes the gap for better opportunity visibility and awareness to inform decision making, it incorporates the needs of industry because it involves them.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Denver, CO, USA
In which US state(s) will you be operating within the next year?
What is your solution’s stage of development?Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth
Who is the team lead for your solution?
How many people work on your solution team?
4 Full-time Staff
2 Part-time staff
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization?
We eat our own "dog food." We've built a community of more than 10,000 early and mid-career underrepresented minorities and I plan to hire at least 30% of our workforce from the platform we've created.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
We serve underrepresented minorities where there is limited access to mentorship opportunities. Existing programs within universities or non-profit organizations are typically manual and do not solve the problems we've identified: lack of confidence and social capital.
We leverage machine learning/AI to recommend mentorship groups personalized to our users' goals - allowing them to learn and build their network among peers and industry professionals from corporate Employee Resource Groups. Asynchronous communication via Q&A enables scale and increased user engagement by easily accommodating to the diverse schedules of our community members and surfaces the most relevant answers and resources from people in the know.
Legacy mentorship platforms are often clunky and cumbersome, emphasize 1:1 matching, are not native mobile, and typically exist within companies for the benefit of employees but designed for the company administrator.
Our web and mobile mentorship platform that facilitates group mentorship through social media like user experiences. The platform allows protégés and mentors to connect and exchange information by building profiles, asking and answering questions, sharing career resources and referring job/internship opportunities. Machine learning and AI is leveraged to surface answers to questions from the most relevant & helpful answers provided by experienced mentors.
Describe the core technology, if applicable, that powers your solution.
We facilitate mentoring at scale on desktops and mobile devices. Our API driven platform supports web and mobile clients, and can support voice, video or other applications. Our platform is built with an event-driven, services oriented architecture that allows processing high volumes of user generated content and integration with services that provide personalized search and delivery of notifications.
The front-end clients leverage technologies to efficiently create native mobile/web experiences. We use React Native, a cross-app development framework that allows us to create platform-specific versions of components that leverage native features such as contacts, notifications, location, and social sharing with a single codebase that shares code across iOS and Android platforms. Our progressive web app is built with Nuxt.js, hosted with AWS Lambda and CloudFront.
The backend API technology is a Serverless API built with the Serverless Framework and hosted with AWS Lambda and API Gateway. This technology allows us to auto-scale our cloud services, make quick deployments for efficient Agile development, only incurring costs based on use. The API uses DynamoDB as the primary database and SQS for message queueing.
We improve personalized mentorship group recommendations and the ranking of relevant internships/jobs/training providers/events based on app engagement. The user experience is tailored to an individual's goals and interests driven by engagement with content that is auto-tagged with aligned attributes. We also leverage AI to implement conversational interfaces that make the process of sharing questions and tips easy for users to express themselves and communicate with experienced professionals who can help.
Provide evidence that this technology works.
Our native mobile app built on React Native is an open-source mobile application framework created by Facebook, Inc. In addition to all of Facebook, Inc.’s apps using React Native, thousands of apps use React Native including Pinterest, Skype, Tableau, and Coinbase. Our progressive web app developed on Nuxt.js is an MIT licensed open source framework that builds server-rendered Vue.js applications easily. Nuxt.js is used by popular websites such as Upwork, Gitlab and Todoist. The backend API technology built with the Serverless Framework and hosted on Amazon Web Services Lambda and API Gateway is an execution model where cloud services are responsible for executing a piece of code by dynamically allocating the resources. It is widely used by large and high-traffic websites and applications including Expedia, EA Sports and Reuters News.
The React Native framework increases our speed to market by allowing our development team to deploy iOS and Android apps simultaneously. Our React Native components render to native platform UI, which use the same native platform APIs that apps built in native technologies use. We support push notifications, audio/video and animation that has proven to engage our users. When moving our application to a production environment that is ready to auto-scale with our user engagement, the Serverless Framework has removed our need to worry about backend OS level patching, scaling thresholds, or network connectivity. The technology effectively automates our dev ops without needing to worry about scalability, thus empowering our team to prototype quickly and try new ideas.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
What is your theory of change?
The core activities that Mentor Spaces facilitates among our community members are Q&A, curated resource sharing and virtual learning events within career interest-based groups among underrepresented college students/early career professionals and corporate mentors with expertise.
In addition to user engagement within the application, the tangible outputs are an increase in internship/job applications to our corporate partners as well as attendance in virtual events.
The short-term outcomes generated are an increase in confidence, career preparation, and social capital by developing new relationships with peers and experts.
The long-term outcomes would be an increase in life-time earnings, a faster rate of promotion and more representation at companies compared national average/previous periods.
With regard to our partnerships with minority serving institutions, training providers, and non-profit support organizations, Mentor Spaces facilitates mentorship among their existing communities, thereby increasing stakeholder engagement and generating important data.
The short-term outcomes generated by these organizations is better resource allocation and an increased ROI from deployed resources.
The long-term outcomes is the sustainability of these organizations and quantitative evidence of impact.
With regard to our corporate clients, Mentor Spaces builds diverse talent pipelines on a role by role basis, expands the reach of their employer brand, and engages current employees. The outputs are an increase in internship/job applicants from underrepresented minorities and increased engagement from employees that serve as mentors.
The short and long term outcomes are productive contributions to the communities in which they operate, and increased sense of belonging among employees and an improved corporate culture.
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many people did your solution serve in 2019? 2018? 2017?
10,000 in 2020. We served 6,000, 2,500 and 750 in 2019, 2018 and 2017, respectively.
What percent of the people you served in 2019 were between the age of 15 and 30?
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Within the next year, we expect to attract and acquire 50,000 students and recent graduates across 90 Historically Black Colleges and Universities through partnerships between our organization and alumni offices to facilitate mentor between students and alumni. Second, we expect to acquire 35 Fortune 1000 companies as clients where their underrepresented employees serve as mentors on the platform in our innovative asynchronous group mentorship approach.
In the next 5 years, we expect to be the #1 virtual mentorship platform in the United States.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
The most significant barrier to achieving our short-term goals is the time is takes for our partners and customers to make a decision. Covid-19 and subsequent economic instability can extend sales cycles longer than our current funding can withstand.
What outcomes data would you like to be collecting that you are not yet able to collect?
We would like to capture the following information with respect to our community members:
1) Conversion rate of applicants from our platform to confirmed internship/job opportunities
2) Average starting salary of job placements vs national average
3) Rate of promotion compared to national average
4) Retention rate of Mentor Spaces community members employed at corporate partners compared to average.
What type of organization is your solution team?For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models
How many people are on your leadership team? (Of these, please provide the number of individuals from your leadership team that are full time, part time, and volunteer)
4 Full-time, 1 part time
What is the number of individuals from my leadership team that attended community college for at least one year?
What is the number of individuals from my leadership team that received a Pell grant as a college student?
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Each team members possesses 10+ years of experience in product management, software development, design and operations.
Two of the team members have been actively building and launching products together in this space for nearly 10 years and have a deep understanding of what works and what does not.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We partner with minority serving institutions and facilitate mentorship between their students and alumni at no charge. A few major partners include Spelman College and North Carolina A&T.
We partner with non-profit support organizations to facilitate mentorship among their members, and enter into revenue share agreements with them based on their corporate partners becoming clients. Some of these partners include INROADS and the National Black MBA Association.
What is your business model?
We charge companies and annual annual subscriptions starting at $15,000 to facilitate internal and external mentorship to underrepresented populations.
We help them to build diverse pipelines, expand the reach of their employer brand and engage their employees to support retention efforts.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?Organizations (B2B)
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We plan to raise equity capital within 12 months and plan to access venture debt and/or a SBA loan for additional working capital to support our growth.
More important, our unit economics are positive and we believe that there is a pathway to finance our growth via subscriptions to our corporate customers.
If you have raised funds for your solution or are generating revenue, please provide details.
We raised $4mm from a two family offices in 2018, and received a grant $775k grant in late 2017 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Currently, we generate revenue from 15 Fortune 1000 companies.
Why are you applying to the Reimagining Pathways to Employment in the US Challenge?
Despite being raised by a 13 year old single mother within a dangerous neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, I've personally and successfully navigated the challenges that I've built Mentor Spaces to solve.
My experience has afforded me with the unique insight that an ecosystem exists to support the reimagining of pathways to employment, but it remains disaggregated locally and nationally primarily because the funding model of many of these organizations do not incentivize collaboration or the development of efficacious technologies to scale impact.
I believe that the partners associated with the challenge can better inform my team's perspective and help raise the visibility of our work within the established ecosystem for rapid collaboration.
While we have raised capital from angels, and have generated revenue, to build our solution thus far, access to potentially lower-cost funding at this stage would our current stage would allow us to rapidly expand our footprint and our impact.
As an entrepreneur of color, there is no secret as to how difficult it is to access institutional capital to scale impactful solutions, and we view this challenge as a pathway to achieving our goals. Our next step would be to secure a formal Series A investment through an impact fund, corporate venture capital or traditional venture capital
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
We've noticed that non-profit organizations that serve our demographic - both local and national - lack the technological core competencies and funding mechanisms to build and scale mentorship with cutting edge technology. They do, however, possess deep knowledge about our demographic and have created great content, and provide critical resources to educate and inform.
We would like to partner with these organizations to provide a technological infrastructure that enables them to better engage underrepresented minority populations with modern technology and a more effective distribution channel for communication. Examples of these organizations include INROADS, MLT, National Black MBA Association, and the National Society for Black Engineers. While we are not as familiar with workforce boards, we see them as potential partners as well.
Mr. Chris Motley Founder & CEO, Mentor Spaces