Meet the Innovators

A-Plus Apprentice LLC

A-Plus Apprentice creates community-based employment to address unemployment and reskilling to improve socio-economic outcomes for high school students up to age 21, especially those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With New Jersey Training Provider status pending, we are in the process of recruiting a sponsor and other employers to join us in making a local socio-economic difference by accepting special needs students for on-the-job training in official apprentice programs. For many students, this is their only path to escape the futility of job seeking while “different.”

Helena van der Merwe
Founder and CEO

Centro Community Partners

Centro Community Partners (Centro) is an Oakland-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to build thriving communities by providing underserved, low-to-moderate income (LMI) people with entrepreneurship education, financial literacy, one-on-one business advising, mentorship, and access to capital. Centro empowers underserved women and minority entrepreneurs to be effective business owners, create self-sustaining jobs, and obtain microloans to grow businesses that add to the economic vitality and social vibrancy of their communities.

Emily Kaplowitz
Development Associate and Small Business Advisor

Driver's Seat Cooperative

Driver’s Seat is a driver-owned cooperative that empowers ride-hail drivers and on-demand delivery workers to use shared data ownership to make the gig economy work better for themselves and the communities they serve.

Driver’s Seat has developed an app to collect data from on-demand drivers in order to a) return it to drivers in the form of actionable insights to optimize their earnings; and b) sell the collected data to local and state government for use in planning and design, policy creation and enforcement (DaaS).

Hays Witt
Co-Founder & CEO


FreeWorld’s mission is to end generational poverty and recidivism. FreeWorld helps returning citizens earn high wage careers to thrive on their own terms. With a newfound sense of stability, prison remains a memory for FreeWorld graduates.

Jason Wang
Founder & CEO

Hopeworks Camden

With a focus on education, technology, and entrepreneurship, Hopeworks provides a positive, healing atmosphere that propels young people to build strong futures and break the cycle of violence and poverty.

They connect youth to life-changing opportunities where their growing technology skills go to work for enterprising businesses within their community. The real-world, on-the-job experience they gain raises their potential and benefits their partners.

Their work of connecting youth to life-changing opportunities is, fundamentally, the work of building a more just and equitable society.

Lawrence Burden
Assistant Director of Career Readiness

Make the Road New Jersey

Make the Road New Jersey builds the power of immigrant, working-class & Latinx communities to achieve dignity and respect through community organizing, legal, policy innovation and transformative education. Make the Road New Jersey’s hubs in Elizabeth, Perth Amboy, Newark and Passaic are hubs for community organizing. Every week, hundreds of immigrant families - young people and adults - come together to fight for dignity and respect in their communities.

Yambeli Gomez

Makerhoods Inc.

Makerhoods is an innovative approach to urban and economic development. A powerful catalyst for microentrepreneurs with limited resources, access to capital and networks, Makerhoods combines affordable living, shared spaces for light manufacturing, and business support to help people start and grow profitable businesses that create prosperity, secure their future, and create inter-generational wealth.

Erin Bush
Director of Community Impact & Initiatives

New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP)

New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program is a private, not-for-profit organization that improves the profitability and competitiveness of New Jersey’s manufacturers. Backed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), NJMEP enables organizations to enhance their productivity and efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve employee performance. For more than 20 years, NJMEP has used its extensive network of connections and proven track record of success to help manufacturers adapt to the latest innovative technologies and best practices to realize more than $4.16 billion in value. Their services are categorized into the following three areas: Operational Excellence, Innovation and Growth and Workforce Development.

Torsten Schimanski
Director of Workforce Development and Apprenticeship

Newark Movement for Economic Equity

The City of Newark, New Jersey is launching its first mayor-led guaranteed income pilot program. In Fall 2021, 400 Newark residents will receive bi-weekly payments of $250 and semi-annual payments of $3,000 over a two-year period. Launching a guaranteed income pilot in Newark will help test theories about how to create sustained community development. After the two-year period, the city of Newark will use data and lessons learned to change existing policies and help build a stronger, more inclusive social safety net.

Kevin Callaghan
Newark Philanthropic Liaison


STEERus' mission is to enable success in today's youth and all those who parent, educate and employ them by coaching soft skills and career readiness. STEERus has modularized soft skills and created an innovative, blended learning approach to training and coaching people on EQ, problem-solving, leadership, and more. Equity is their North Star: they are striving to enable all those in need with the access and support that they need for success.

Loralyn Mears, PhD
Founder and CEO

Shimmy Technologies

Shimmy is an industrial ed tech company on a mission to inspire more people to work in sewn products manufacturing and help workers stay relevant as automation changes the landscape. They build mobile and tablet-based games powered by AI that help people upskill and reskill, over time, using self-paced, asynchronous training in bite-sized modules.

Anaitté Aguirre
Project Manager

Startup Tribes

The principal mission of Startup Tribes is to democratize access to innovation, learning, and economic ecosystems.

Their values are to enhance access and sharing of knowledge by building vibrant innovation communities that are bound together by a collaborative culture. From their founding in 2019, they believe that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are central to sustainable innovation.

Startup Tribes embraces the idea that all individuals, regardless of social or economic circumstances, have the potential to develop an entrepreneurial mindset; and that everyone has the right to start a venture. Their robust “Innovation Community Builder” platform provides easy access to resources, tools, events, courses, mentors, jobs, and collaboration tools to help propel the people behind the ideas.

Parth Mehta
Founder & CEO

The Center for Innovation in Worker Organizations (CIWO) at Rutgers

The Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) is a “think and do tank” whose mission is the promotion of strong workers’ organizations. They seek to shift the balance of power towards greater economic and social equality. CIWO leverages the resources of a highly respected research university to create a centralized go-to institute for strategic and organizational development. Their primary objectives are to facilitate the generation and dissemination of ideas, strategies, and programs for newly emergent as well as established worker centers, community organizations, labor unions and local, state and national networks.

KB Brower and MaryGrace DiMaria
Outreach Director and Senior Program Administrator

The Scholars Program

The Scholars Program mission is to help New Jersey graduates call New Jersey their home, where work is inspiring, fulfilling, and offers a livable wage, which is facilitated by enabling the exchange of information and expertise across the economic, workforce and talent ecosystem resulting in an acceleration of human capital development to quickly fill jobs and close the skills gap.

Dana Castro
Executive Director


Toucan is on a mission to give everybody somebody to talk to! Toucan leverages the power of peer support in an accessible, low-cost, anonymous, 1-1, digital platform that pairs people with similar experiences/concerns for 15 minute, synchronous audio conversations. Simply put, Toucan gives users a place to speak and listen, openly and securely, to someone who is going through something similar to them.

Joshua Blank & Jane Buescher

Ultranauts Inc.

Ultranauts Academy is an initiative of Ultranauts Inc., a quality engineering firm with team members in 29 states, 75% of whom are autistic. Ultranauts is on a mission to demonstrate that neurodiversity, including autism, is a competitive advantage for business, and has reimagined every aspect of how a company operates so our cognitively diverse teams can thrive.

Rajesh Anandan


WeClock aims to offer a privacy-preserving way to empower workers and unions in their battle for decent work. They build future-forward, privacy-first technologies that help workers track and share data about their working life with each other, organizers, and advocates. Their current offerings include a cross-platform mobile phone app and a Apple watch app that lets workers privately track their working life and easily share data they collect with organizers and researchers.

Dan Calacci
Doctoral Candidate, MIT Media Lab

Workers Benefit Fund

The expansion of the gig economy has highlighted the benefits gap that non-traditional workers operate in. They are forced to choose between an expensive individual insurance market or opting out entirely. Many choose to opt-out, leaving them and their families solely responsible for high medical costs down the road.

Workers Benefit Fund was founded to find a better solution for gig workers. They are passionate about partnering with platforms, policy leaders, and labor unions to re-envision what’s possible for gig workers and their families. They’ve already provided benefits to thousands of gig workers, and are just getting started.

Benjamin Geyerhahn

Year Up

Year Up's mission is to close the Opportunity Divide by ensuring that young adults gain the skills, experiences, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through careers and higher education. Year Up is committed to ensuring equitable access to economic opportunity, education, and justice for all young adults—no matter their background, income, or zip code. Employers face a growing need for talent while millions are left disconnected from the economic mainstream. These inequities only further perpetuate the Opportunity Divide that exists in our country—a divide that Year Up is determined and positioned to close.

Stanley Taylor
Senior Director