Pitch your solution.
Our mission is to empower promising, underrepresented young people—first-generation college students, students from low-income backgrounds, and students of color—with the skills, confidence, experiences and networks necessary to transition from college to strong first jobs.
While education has the potential to be the great equalizer, nearly 1 million of the 1.2 million low-income and first-generation college enrollees each year won’t emerge with a quality first job. These students--who will earn only 66¢ on the dollar to their higher income peers--were already facing a structural recession. And with COVID-19, now more than ever, college students from humble beginnings need to be prepared to compete in the modern economy.
Through scaling the virtual BravenX Career Accelerator in partnership with college success organizations and employers, Braven will execute our proven 15-week Accelerator course to empower 500-750 college students from humble beginnings to secure high quality employment, putting them on the path to economic freedom.
What specific problem are you solving?
While education has the potential to be the great equalizer, nearly 1,000,000 of the 1.2 million low-income and first-generation college enrollees each year won’t emerge with a quality first job. These students--who will earn only 66¢ on the dollar to their higher income peers--were already facing a structural recession.
In addition to the challenges that these students face, across racial lines, we're seeing the devastating impact of structural racism on the health and wealth of our Black and Latinx citizens. This fall, Citigroup came out with a study on the cost of racism. If we closed 4 key racial wealth gaps, including the Black wage gap, we would have added 16 trillion to the American GDP over the last 20 years.
Daily at Braven, we're fighting for equality of opportunity and economic justice. We are constantly reminded of the resilience of our Fellows who continue to overcome the challenges stacked against them. These students, and their families and communities, deserve a more just America in every way—and it’s up to us to be a part of the solution to create it. Together we're helping to ensure our nation lives up to its foundational promise of creating equal opportunity for all.
What is your solution?
The BravenX Accelerator is a 15-week online and virtual program for college students who are alumni of college success organizations, scholarship programs, or charter networks. Content is delivered fully virtually through a combination of weekly online modules (completed asynchronously) and one virtual meeting per week with cohorts of 5-8 students and a Leadership Coach (a volunteer professional from the workforce).
The program has three sections:
- Design Your Career: students identify their personal leadership assets, discover their career path, and share their leadership story,
- Hustle to Career: students practice the hard skills of professional writing, building a professional online presence, applying for internships, and interviewing and presenting
- Tackle Career Challenges: students apply key professional competencies like project planning, working in teams, giving/getting feedback, and design thinking. Fellows participate in a design-thinking challenge that engages a company to solve a real business problem.
Through the experience, Fellows develop in five professional competencies: operating and managing, problem solving, working in teams, networking and communicating, and self-driven leading.
After successful completion of the course, Fellows receive a financial stipend and additional opportunities to develop leadership and career-readiness skills, engage in an enduring professional network, and stay on track to securing strong internships and jobs.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
BravenX targets 4-year college students who identify as coming from a low-income background, are first-generation college students, and/or a person of color. Weekly we collect retrospective surveys from BravenX Fellows and use that feedback to respond to needs and adjust when necessary.
We executed the first BravenX pilot in Chicago in 2019 with 113 students from 9 partner organizations and saw strong results. Specifically, BravenX participants showed statistically significant growth in key non-cognitive areas: job search self efficacy, career self efficacy, working in teams, authentic leadership, problem solving, operating and managing, and networking. They also had high attendance (89%), module engagement (86%) and content mastery (79%) and satisfaction (84 Net Promoter Score), which is parallel with the results we see in our core university model.
Braven as an organization has served 2700 first-generation, low-income and underrepresented college students across four campuses and has more than 600 Fellows who are in the professional workforce. Prior to COVID-19, these young adults were outpacing their peers by 21 percentage points in strong job attainment within 6-months of college graduation (our North Star). Nearly 50% of them were outearning their parents in their very first job out of college.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Increase access to high-quality, affordable learning, skill-building, and training opportunities for those entering the workforce, transitioning between jobs, or facing unemployment
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.
There is a tremendous impact on lifetime earnings and employment tied to the first job secured out of college, especially for students from low-income backgrounds. Through BravenX, hundreds of Fellows over the next year will gain the social capital, hard and soft skills, and multiple at-bat practices (like interviewing) that are critical to entering the workforce. This is directly aligned to the second dimension of the Reimagining Pathways to Employment in the US Challenge.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Chicago, IL, 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?
Aimée Eubanks Davis, CEO & Founder of Braven
How many people work on your solution team?
Full Time Staff: 9
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization?
We think about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as embedded in all that we do. At Braven, we choose to do the following: 1) acquire excellent diverse talent in all levels of the organization 2) push decision making as low into the organization as possible to keep decisions closest to the end-users and their experience 3) create space for celebration, grief, and connection in all we do in a way that fosters belonging across many lines of difference, 4) stay focused on our mission of equalizing access to the American Dream. Our National Board is also diverse across racial, gender, and industry experience. Of our nine-person board, 56% are People of Color, 56% are female, and experience ranges from corporate management, to nonprofit management, to higher education, and community engagement.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new business model or process
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Braven began as a leadership and career development experience for underrepresented college students, on the surface very similar to nonprofits MLT or InRoads. However, our focus on strong outcomes delivered at scale in a low-cost way challenged us to build something truly innovative. We decided to first build an experience partially delivered online, allowing us to effectively teach professional skills at significant scale. Then, we embedded the in-person components as a higher education course for credit, allowing vulnerable students to fit our programming into their already overflowing schedules.
Now, with the virtual BravenX Accelerator, we are no longer limited to serving students at one university, but rather can serve hundreds of students from universities across the country, with a financial incentive versus credit. Lastly, companies provide the volunteers who facilitate the course as a learning and development opportunity, eliminating our need to pay instructors while building our Fellows’ social capital. The result is a highly impactful and scalable experience that allows employer partners to play a powerful role in preparing the next generation of leaders for career success.
Describe the core technology, if applicable, that powers your solution.
We have built a custom platform to deliver the content and features that are critical to supporting the BravenX Accelerator. The Accelerator’s content consists of engaging and interactive modules for students to introduce content and larger projects for them to practice their skills. Students interact with our proprietary content through Canvas, currently the most popular learning management system in higher ed. Canvas is a perfect match for the BravenX Accelerator because of its maturity, market share, and support for the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard. We have implemented this standard in the Braven Platform, which has allowed us to embed our content inside of Canvas. Such functionality provides us a pathway to design and deliver custom content as needed while also leveraging best in class tools such as Articulate Rise 360 (https://articulate.com/360/rise) when it makes more sense.
Provide evidence that this technology works.
Braven uses Canvas to deliver the online BravenX Accelerator experience. In 2018, Canvas surpassed Blackboard as the most popular learning management system in the higher education market. (Source)
We deliver our proprietary content through Canvas via the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard (Source). The LTI standard has gained traction in this space, allowing content providers to more easily integrate with learning management systems. McGraw Hill, for example, uses this standard to integrate with Canvas, as well. (Source)
We author our module content using Articulate Rise 360, a popular tool in the eLearning space.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
What is your theory of change?
We believe there are four primary barriers contributing to the college-to-career challenge for underrepresented students. The first is a lack of access to preparation in key career readiness skills – problem solving, working in teams, and communicating and networking–that students are expected to have mastery of, but are never taught. The second is a gap in the confidence needed to get and thrive in a strong first job. The third is a lack of access to professional experiences - often our students have significant school, work, and family obligations that prevent them from being able to prioritize an internship. Lastly, and probably most critically, our students are missing a network of people who will mentor, endorse, and open professional doors for them.
In the BravenX Accelerator course we address these four gaps: students identify their personal leadership assets, discover their career path, and authentically share their leadership story. They practice the hard skills of professional writing, building a professional online presence, applying for internships, and interviewing and presenting, and students apply key professional competencies like project planning, working in teams, giving and getting feedback, and design thinking.
Partnerships with employers play a key role. For employers, Braven provides meaningful employee professional development experiences, engagement with the local community, and offers early access to diverse talent. And, for Fellows, these partnerships build their professional networks and open doors to strong internships and jobs.
In 2018, Monica Higgins at the Harvard Graduate School of Education completed an exploratory study on Braven's impact on Fellows’ non-cognitive skills and social capital and found that Braven Fellows saw statistically significant growth in grit, sense of social and academic fit, growth mindset, job search self-efficacy, and career self-efficacy as well as statistically significant growth in the closeness of friendship and advice networks. In 2019, Anthony Lising Antonio and Eric Bettinger of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education completed a two-year study on Braven’s impact on factors tied to college persistence. Fellows showed statistically significant growth over the comparison group in key non-cognitive constructs, especially the areas where we had seen previous positive impact in the Harvard study.
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?
In 2019 (FY20), we served 113 BravenX Fellows and 782 Fellows in our traditional Accelerator course across 4 sites. In 2018 (FY19) and 2017 (FY18) we did not run the BravenX program, but served 561 Fellows and 478 Fellows in our traditional Accelerator course 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?
Our ambition is to become the unequivocal national leader in college-to-career success, changing the trajectory of tens of thousands of students over the next 10 years. As a team, we will continue to focus the majority of our time on growing our core university model (in a virtual setting for now) and working towards the following goals by 2030: 1) 40,000+ underrepresented young people impacted in major proof points in Chicago, NYC, the Bay and Newark, 2) 20-25+ percentage point uplift in strong job attainment versus comparable peers and $10B+ lifetime earnings increase for cumulative Fellows impacted, and 3) get closer to a revenue model that mirrors our shared-value partnerships with employers and universities
Additionally, we will continue to strategically innovate to meet the needs of the moment by more quickly growing BravenX to serve hundreds of students per year.
To do that, we are focusing on the following top initiatives: 1) Data tracking systems and research - through investing in our systems we can continue to collect huge amounts of data as we scale in order to make a compelling case for Partners, funders, Fellows, and policy makers, 2) Technology - investing in technology will establish Braven’s systems as best in class and can ensure Braven can operate more nimbly and methodically as we continue to scale and improve our model. 3) Thought Leadership - In order to reach more potential new partners and students as well as create increased urgency around the college to career challenge, we want to raise awareness around the issue and establish Braven, Aimée Eubanks Davis, and our regional Executive Directors as thought leaders in building the bridge between college and career for underrepresented students.
In the next year, we plan to serve ~1100 Fellows through our university-based core program, and an additional 500-750 through BravenX.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Specifically tied to the BravenX Accelerator Program, we are up against two challenges:
1) Testing a $500 stipend: When we piloted BravenX in Fall 2019, students received $1000 stipends after successful completion of the course. For this iteration of BravenX, to reduce the cost/Fellow, students will instead be receiving $500 stipends. One of the major unknowns (and therefore risks) is whether $500 will be enough to yield similar strong outcomes. We will be monitoring this and ultimately weave the findings into our sustainability plan.
2) Economic Downturn/Job Attainment: Our topline goal remains to ensure strong outcomes for our Fellows. Given COVID-19, we’ve collected data and research to understand the economic impact on employment. However, there is still a lot of irreducible uncertainty around the labor market and where our jobs' metric baselines will end up falling. We set targets based on the information available and our best educated guesses and will need to keep monitoring labor market indicators, however, the reality could end up looking quite different.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
For the stipend: We have already secured the stipends for the Spring 2020 semester at $500/student, so we will be monitoring this and ultimately weave the findings into future iterations of the BravenX pilot as well as the sustainability plan that we are building for the BravenX model.
For the economic downturn/job attainment: We have spent the last several months working to deeply understand the economic impacts of COVID for our specific group of college students so that we can share regular insights and tools with our Fellows to help them navigate this economic moment. For example, we recently released a contingency planning guide for Fellows to support them in finding opportunities in this tighter job market. We have also made programmatic shifts like expanding our 1:1 professional mentor program for Fellows who are approaching the job search. We’ve also made a few adjustments in what we’ll measure in the future. For example, in addition to collecting data around quality first jobs, we are now collecting robust data around our Fellows who are in “pathway” jobs, which ideally serve as stepping stones to career-accelerating opportunities.
What outcomes data would you like to be collecting that you are not yet able to collect?
To measure our progress toward quality outcomes (job/graduate school), we rely on data from a number of sources that we execute fairly continuously: annual surveys of our graduates, data from our LinkedIn API integration, and direct updates from Fellows about their job search. Because our partners in BravenX are community organizations rather than universities, we need additional capacity on our team to work with them to collect college persistence and job outcomes data. We believe that if we can get data-sharing agreements with our partners, this will be easier to track longer term, rather than just relying on survey data.
What type of organization is your solution team?
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)
10 - Full Time
In what year was your organization founded? How many years have you worked on your solution?
Braven was founded in 2013. The Braven team piloted several programs in both the K-12 and higher education spaces during its first two years of operations. Given college students’ readiness to focus on career and the tremendous need for career support in this space, it became clear that Braven should focus its programming on higher education. With this strategic focus, Braven implemented its core program in 2014 at San José State University, 2015 at Rutgers University–Newark, 2018 at National Louis University in Chicago, and 2020 at Lehman College in New York City. The BravenX program was piloted in 2019.
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
In addition to having a firsthand understanding of what economic mobility looks like and means for a family unit, several of our Leadership Team members bring the lenses of being educators and running a large HR or college student recruitment function prior to Braven. Through the experiences of being educators, we witnessed first hand our students’ incredible potential as well as learned how to develop highly effective educational experiences. Through our HR and Recruitment expertise, we oversaw initiatives that attracted, engaged, developed and retained extraordinary, diverse talent, which helps us understand how employers think about their talent pipelines as what is broken about our current talent systems. This confluence of experiences helped our team understand both what needed to change in higher education as well as within employers to ensure that the next generation of CEOs, teachers, scientists and public servants are as diverse as our future demands.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
Braven launched with seed funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative at San Jose State University. Since then, growth funders such as the Arthur Rock, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, New Profit, and a group of individual donors have enabled our work to scale to Rutgers University-Newark, National Louis University and Lehman College. The Stupski Foundation funded research from Stanford University exploring our strong correlation with college persistence and graduation. Anchor employer partners such as Salesforce, LinkedIn, Deloitte, Prudential and Adobe have fueled our impact with investments of $100,000 or more a year while engaging their employees as volunteers.
Our university partners (San José State University, Rutgers University-Newark, National Louis University, Lehman College) provide physical space for our course, course credit, as well as funding in the form of fees for service allowing us to serve more than 2700 college students to date.
For BravenX, in addition to national and local employer partners, we have partnered with the Charter School Growth Fund, The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, The Walton Foundation, Noble Network of Charter Schools, College Possible, Intrinsic Schools, OneGoal, One Million Degrees, Chicago Scholars, Bottomline, UIC Chance program, UIC College of Education- Human Development & Learning.
What is your business model?
The Business Model Canvases that Guide Our Work:
- For Students: Proving currently enrolled postsecondary students with the soft skills, experiences, networks and confidence needed to land BA-worthy jobs.
- For Universities/Community Partners: Providing 4-year universities or community orgs (CMOs/CSOs) with a mission-aligned service to provide soft-skill and social capital development, which improves graduation rates and job outcomes.
- For employers: Providing employers with 1) a more diverse talent pipeline prepared with essential career soft skills and 2) high impact engagement opportunities and L&D for current talent.
- Program: Costs directly related to running the program
- Fundraising: Cost of raising/soliciting contributions
- Management & General: Costs that support the entity as a whole
Lifetime cost/student: We believe that we can get the lifetime cost/student with a mature BravenX to be ~$2K-$2.5k
- University/Community Org Fees +Flex Funding: 33%
- Employers: 33%
- Philanthropy: 33%
- In-kind: for every $3 dollars of revenue, braven brings in another dollar of in-kind support
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?
Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We have a shared revenue model that relies on philanthropy, employer partnerships, and community partner (CMO/CSO) fees for service. We hope to get to the goal of one-third of revenue coming from philanthropy, one-third from corporations, and one-third from our partnerships over the next five years.
If you have raised funds for your solution or are generating revenue, please provide details.
The cost for three semesters of BravenX to serve up to 750 Fellows is $2,400,479. We have $1,119,750 committed toward that at this time and represents ~$966,500 in foundation support, $114,500 from individuals, and $38,750 from employers. We can provide specific names upon request.
If you seek to raise funds for your solution, please provide details.
As mentioned above, the cost of the BravenX program for three semesters is ~$2,400,479. We will need to secure an additional $1,280,729 in funding. We have several asks out to foundations and promising conversations with employers and college success networks. We will be working over the next two quarters to secure the remaining funding.
What are your estimated expenses for 2021?
For BravenX, our FY22 (July 2021 - June 2022) expenses are $1,559,283.
Why are you applying to the Reimagining Pathways to Employment in the US Challenge?
We are applying because while we are proud of the incredible growth and impact we’ve made, the COVID-19 crisis and recession has amplified the need for college students from humble beginnings to be prepared to enter the workforce with a strong first job. We have big ambitions to equalize access to economic mobility -- and we have a scalable systemic solution that is truly “reimagining the pathways” to employment for thousands of underrepresented college students through innovative partnerships between the philanthropic, employer, community organizations and nonprofit communities.
In addition to the support of the Morgridge Family Foundation, New Profit, CSU Global, and Gary Community Investments, the development of the validation pilots with US Workforce Boards will be critical to validating our model and catalytic in building a sustainable model to scale BravenX. Additionally, given the virtual nature of our programming and potential to expand it, the IBM virtual coaching and credits will be extremely helpful.
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?
Given our BravenX model deeply relies on partnerships with employers, community organizations (College Success Orgs/Charter Management Orgs/CBOs), and philanthropy, we are actively seeking additional:
- Employer partners who want to support their employees’ development on leading diverse teams while also contributing to building diverse talent pipelines
- Innovative community partners with access to first generation, low-income, or students of color in 4-year universities that would benefit from Braven’s services building off the investments made in K-12 to get this group of students to college
- Philanthropic partners with expertise in building sustainable revenue models.
- Tech experts: Lastly, because our program relies on virtual and online components where the available technology is changing constantly, we always welcome expertise in technology to ensure we continue to be relevant, efficient and user-friendly.
- Aimée Eubanks Davis Founder & CEO, Braven, Braven