What is Mentra, and what do you do?
What is the Mentra Platform?
Mentra is the brainchild of passionate disability advocates that are trying to place neurodiversity at the core of recruiting in a way that scales, treating every individual as unique and more than just a resume. The Mentra platform, built with human-centered design, enables employers to have access to a centralized ecosystem of neurodiverse job-seekers. Here, employers can view candidates’ holistic profiles that are built to capture the unique capabilities of each individual. The Mentra team believes that the best way for a person to reach their highest potential in their careers is by finding a job that aligns with their cultural values, work ethic, personality, environmental preferences in the workplace; hence, the team is working diligently with employers and neurodiverse communities to research and identify what qualifies as a ‘good match’ between employers and candidates.
What problem is Mentra attempting to solve?
The job finding process is suboptimal for almost everyone, but its most prominent failure is evident in the neurodiverse community, where unemployment and underemployment rates often reach above the 80% mark despite the unique and oftentimes extraordinary abilities that this community has to offer to the labor market. Invisible barriers permeate the process from searching, applying, and interviewing for a position all the way through to retaining and advancing in a job once on the inside of a company.
Employers are often unaware of the difficulties faced by individuals with cognitive and developmental disabilities and do not take the right measures to accommodate their needs.
This graph demonstrates the unemployment rate before the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Since the recruitment process is based heavily on evaluating fit using traditional methods, including an individual’s ability to confidently sell oneself and one’s strengths, recruiters often overlook or undervalue candidates whose differences mask their true capabilities. Despite the candidate’s high levels of proficiency or diligence at the task, neurodiverse individuals are often excluded before having the true opportunity to demonstrate their ability in the role.
What is the technology that Mentra is building?
Mentra’s key innovation lies in the proprietary dataset that captures valuable relationships between characteristics of neurodivergent candidates and workplace environments that they are able to thrive in. These factors include:
Strengths and personality
Having spent over a year researching the key data points necessary to make or break a job placement for neurodiverse individuals in terms of enabling retention and career progression, Mentra’s key innovation lies in ‘Environmental Preferences’ and ‘Strengths & Personality’. By sourcing talent from multiple different locations across the country, and for a variety of job categories (ranging from highly specialized professions such as graphic design and data science to more straightforward jobs including inventory fulfillment and clerical work), Mentra aims to include autistic individuals in smaller communities, rural settings, and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds that often lacking the needed access to resources and employment opportunities. Hence, an online platform provides the scalability to incorporate a higher volume of candidates and businesses of all sizes and locations that aim to hire inclusively. In this way, Mentra aims to serve as a single place for employers to access and hire from the neurodiverse talent pool.
How was the Mentra team founded?
The team was co-founded by Jhillika Kumar and Conner Reinhardt while attending university at the Georgia Institute of Technology and conducting research with Dr. Gregory Abowd, a renowned researcher and Founding President of the Atlanta Autism Consortium. When Jhillika unveiled Mentra’s mission during her keynote speech at the Grace Hopper Celebration, the startup gained exposure on public platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter — their team then grew to 10 impassioned advocates, half of whom are on the autism spectrum. Having included neurodiverse individuals on the leadership team, Mentra is committed to incorporating the voices of the community; working with over 40 autistic and neurodiverse individuals from Autism Self Advocacy of Atlanta and The Eaton Academy, a Vocational Rehabilitation Center, to conduct user research to understand the ‘invisible barriers’ that exist in the job finding process.
Left to right: Co-founder Conner Reinhardt and founder Jhillika Kumar
How can companies leverage Mentra to improve their levels of inclusion and innovation?
The holistic Mentra profile.
The Mentra Profile is created and designed to replace the traditional resume; this way, individuals can focus on how they can add value to a workplace, rather than formatting. We use this profile to introduce employers to all dimensions of a neurodiverse individual in a way that conveys who they truly are and what talents they can bring to the job including work ethic, cultural values, personality and environmental preferences in the workplace.
In order to reduce overhead and risk, employers can leverage the Mentra Profile to gain a more holistic understanding of the candidate virtually, enabling them to proceed to the interview stage with confidence, removing the need to vet individuals in person. Hence, Mentra enables employers to recruit, hire and retain neurodiverse candidates to improve the level of inclusion of neurodiversity in the workplace.
Once launched, how will Mentra work for neurodiverse individuals?
Once the team launches the platform, job seekers will be able to sign up to join Mentra, and are guided to complete a single robust questionnaire that captures data about their environmental preferences, core values, personalities, skills and strengths. This will enable the Mentra matching algorithm to evaluate different job postings and find good matches based on factors that extend beyond traditional experiential qualifications. The platform generates a customizable Mentra Profile for each candidate, allowing candidates to shift their effort from completing filling out a pile of dehumanizing job applications to digitally sharing their story and humanity with employers who care to listen. The Mentra platform also serves to guide individuals’ career development pathways, through mentorship and training resources that enable them to take charge of their career search and regain the hope that is so easily lost into the resume black-holes that are all too common in the current system. Only when an employer is committed to giving a candidate a fair shot at demonstrating their skills will a job-seeker on the platform be notified of the new opportunity, making fake-outs and false leads a thing of the past.
Why was Mentra at the Grace Hopper Conference?
In 2019, Mentra’s founder, Jhillika Kumar, was recognized for her social entrepreneurship by AbitaB.org and delivered a speech at the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration Keynote. In her speech in front of a global audience, Jhillika drew on her vision of a future where neurodiverse individuals are valued for their strengths in the workforce. As the call to action, she invited diversity and inclusion employers to directly access the Mentra talent pipeline to pioneer the neurodiverse movement at their firms.
What industry partners is Mentra working with?
Mentra has been working with several industry partners including state-level government organizations (Georgia Council of Developmental Disabilities), national advocacy organizations (Autism Self Advocacy Network), inclusive corporations (Kimberly-Clark and Net App), vocational rehabilitation centers (The Eaton Academy). The team also presented a demo of their product to 24 companies who are members of the Autism @ Work Employer roundtable, including JP Morgan, SAP, IBM and EY.
In April 2020, the team received news about making it through Phase I of the Department of Health and Human Services ACL innovation challenge to create an Inclusive Talent Pipeline for American Businesses. The team’s proposal was selected out of 60 submissions as one of five companies to advance to stage two of the competition. With mentors from governmental disability organizations, the team is expected to conduct small scale feasibility testing on the selected workforce pipeline models.
Our National Supporters
Autism Self Advocacy Network Atlanta
Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities
What is Mentra's vision for the future?
The Mentra team strongly believes that building a foundation with accessibility principles at its core will eventually benefit all of society. While our focus initially is primarily on the autistic population, our team’s goal is to expand to neurodiversity in a broader sense, and eventually to empower 1 in every 7 individuals worldwide that live with a disability (W.H.O) to find meaningful employment and career progression.