Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth keeping tabs on entrepreneurs creating equal opportunities. Today I’m chatting with Chris Motley, founder of Mentor Spaces.
Spiffy: Welcome Chris, I’m really excited to talk to you! Can you tell me about your work and mission?
Chris: It’s great to be here Spiffy! Did you know that there are many companies that struggle to attract, hire and retain underrepresented talent?
Spiffy: I didn’t realize that!
Chris: Exactly, so we help companies accomplish these goals by facilitating virtual mentorship between their employees and prospective underrepresented candidates who could be a great fit for the organization but lack the confidence and social capital necessary to easily discover opportunities.
Spiffy: That’s phenomenal! How did you even realize this was a problem that needed to be solved?
Chris: Well, Spiffy, in college, I had a chance encounter with someone who worked at Goldman Sachs. Despite my humble beginnings, this encounter opened me up to a world that I didn't know existed. He helped me choose my major and electives, and prepare for an internship at the firm. It changed everything for me. I believe a person cannot be who they have not seen, and I believe that technology can be leveraged to create serendipity for others.
Spiffy: Those are very interesting insights, Chris. Does Mentor Spaces help introduce these types of opportunities?
Chris: We try, Spiffy! Our vision is to make workplaces more diverse, equitable and inclusive while advancing the careers of underrepresented minorities. We provide our mentorship technology to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and national nonprofit organizations that focus on underrepresented talent. We then connect these early career professionals to mentors in career-interest based groups, where they can get their questions answered by experts and access internships and job opportunities.
Spiffy: I see! What kind of impact have you had so far?
Chris: We recently partnered with Spelman College to facilitate mentorship among its 2,100 students and several thousand active alumnae. Our technology allows them to scale their mentorship program by at least ten times compared to the previous year. Their students will be more equipped to choose majors and electives, while also having the opportunity to prepare for internships and full-time opportunities because of their interactions with professionals in the Mentor Spaces community.
Spiffy: That’s phenomenal, Chris! It’s like being introduced to a whole new galaxy! Now I always ask entrepreneurs one crucial question: when have you experienced failure and what did you do about it?
Chris: Wow, Spiffy, well, it took nearly three years before my startup raised its first round of capital. We spoke to nearly 100 investors and were one month away from running out of money. Every rejection challenged us to tweak our elevator pitch and marketing materials, and improve our storytelling. When we got our first ‘yes,’ another ten followed!
Spiffy: Like you said, it’s about “leveraging to create serendipity”. Though it sounds like it’s also the result of a lot of hard work! Tell me, Chris, is there anything really interesting that you’ve learned lately?
Chris: I recently listened to an interview from a former FBI hostage negotiator. I learned that asking "how" and "what" questions invites the other person to problem solve with you — versus creating a combative and unproductive conversation. It has worked extremely well in my daily communication with others, and serves as a catalyst for innovation.
Spiffy: Mentor Spaces is an amazing innovation. Thank you for sharing it with us — and the world.
Prior to founding Mentor Spaces, Chris Motley was an Executive Vice President at 1888 Mills, where he led its expansion to Ghana and built its Apparel Division, employing over 300 women. Prior to that, he worked at Goldman Sachs as a commodities trader. He is a graduate of Columbia University with a BA in history, and the Kellogg School of Management with a concentration in entrepreneurship. (Nominated by Techstars)