Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Mentor Spaces.
Chris Motley: I’ve always focused my efforts to acquire the skills and networks necessary to build purposeful, mission-driven products and companies. After graduating from Columbia University, I spent several years at Goldman Sachs before getting my MBA at the Kellogg School of Management.
Mentor Spaces was built to give the next generation of Black and Latinx leaders the same opportunities I had. The idea that “a person can only be who they have seen” drives our mentor-led community focused on career preparation, quality support and outcomes. By combining the power of the internet with the magic of group mentoring, we can transform the careers and life trajectories of underrepresented talent much more quickly and at scale.
Mentor Spaces was launched in March 2020 after years of research with grants from Strada Education Network and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to measure the efficacy of personalized career pathways for students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
How does Mentor Spaces innovate?
Chris Motley: Mentor Spaces helps make workplaces more diverse and inclusive by facilitating virtual mentorship among employees and prospective candidates. The Mentor Spaces web and mobile applications allow corporate mentors to communicate with early-career Black and Latinx candidates in career interest-based groups, making it easier for companies to attract, hire, and retain diverse talent. Companies use Mentor Spaces to build a diverse talent pipeline, improve retention, and enhance corporate culture.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Chris Motley: While we launched during the pandemic, the virtual nature of our platform has allowed us to continue to thrive and innovate to make workplaces more diverse and inclusive. Although Covid-19 has amplified the challenges underrepresented students and early career professionals face, the national discussion around diversity, equity and inclusion provide an opportunity to change the narrative. Mentor Spaces is helping to transition conversations from awareness to action and help executives commit to creating diverse talent pipelines for their organizations.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Chris Motley: As I’ve said previously, sometimes we have to take some wrong turns to end up in the right place.
In 2017 my company Better Weekdays launched its latest product, The Whether, with the mission to remove friction experienced by underrepresented minorities when transitioning from college to career. Debuting at SXSWedu, we took first prize in the launch competition and were on our way to building a company that would provide a meaningful impact in the lives of people that I wanted to serve – people who looked like me.
However, after a chance encounter with a friend who worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I ultimately realized that we weren’t solving the right problem. While it was an incredibly difficult choice, we wanted to provide more for underrepresented talent. Deciding to evolve The Whether was a difficult decision but led to Mentor Spaces and the opportunity to truly build authentic relationships through virtual mentorship.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Chris Motley: While several other mentorship platforms focus only on internal mentorship, Mentor Spaces’ primary focus is on external mentorship, where we connect early career professionals with mentors in their field, not necessarily their company. By leveraging external mentorship, we provide a direct pathway to diverse talent pipelines, allowing mentors to make an impact with early career professionals while growing their influence at their respective organizations by providing access to new talent.
Your final thoughts?
Chris Motley: Mentor Spaces has taken a unique approach to mentorship by giving both companies and individuals a chance to act. We are offering companies a tangible solution that closes the gap between where our nation is today, and what I believe it can be. That is the vision of what is now Mentor Spaces: to make all workplaces diverse, inclusive and equitable while advancing and maximizing the careers of underrepresented minorities.
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