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REACH Pathways Origin Story

By Jeff and Brooke, Co-CEO’s of REACH Pathways



 At REACH, we are on a mission to transform trajectories, taking students from merely surviving to thriving.


What’s REACH? In Our Words. REACH Pathways is not just a platform; it's a revolution in how under-resourced students chart their course from high school to success in college, career, and beyond.But the genesis of REACH didn't happen in isolation; it emerged from a rich tapestry of experience, passion, and a commitment to empowering the overlooked.

 

Our Roots. We came from the opposite sides of America. Jeff from the South Side of Chicago, born in Auburn Gresham and moved to the suburbs. Brooke from a rural, working-class community – quite literally on a mountain in the middle of the woods.

 

We each faced stereotypes, doubters, and obstacles to overcome. Jeff was told to play basketball when he really wanted to play on computers. Teachers dismissed him, and his high school principal denied him a graduation ceremony, despite excelling in every class. Brooke was told “why would you ever want to leave this town?,” “girls aren’t good at math,” and “that’s not a real job” enough times growing up that if she had a dollar for every dismissal of her dreams, she could have paid for her freshman year of college.

 

We found our path, mentors, and hope in college. Jeff went to Mizzou to major in computer science and found a mentor who helped him realize he was too good at sales to sit behind a computer all day. Those opportunities allowed him to excel in sales, marketing, and software engineering and to become a 3X founder. Brooke started her college journey at 16-years-old by taking community colleges classes full time and transferred to the University of Washington to major in economics and international studies (graduating with a double major in 3 years and going on to the London School of Economics for her Master’s degree at age 21). In college, she finally learned there were indeed “real jobs” where she could do good in the world.

 

Our careers evolved with our interests. After a decade working in sales, marketing and IT, Jeff founded tech start-up Black Box Creative. He realized that he was spending all of his 5 to 9 time on nonprofit boards, mentoring young people, and advising the governor on technology pathways while his 9 to 5 job was succeeding but not fulfilling him. That realization brought him to Chicago Scholars. Jeff is well-connected in the Chicago business community as a member of the Economic Club and has participated as a fellow in Leadership Greater Chicago, IMPACT Leadership development, and Bank of America Neighborhood Builders.

 

Brooke spent a decade in international development and human rights, managing operations in humanitarian crises in a dozen countries, growing infrastructure for an organization that tripled in size to $25M annually. She designed a program for UNICEF during the Haiti earthquake emergency response that served 25,000 people and was duplicated across the globe. She developed a passion for change management and growing organizations and the belief that the world’s problems needed the next generation to solve them. She joined Chicago Scholars to support the next generation of leaders and prevent the stereotypes she had experienced growing up.

 

We joined Chicago Scholars in 2018. We were inspired by Chicago Scholars’ fundamental belief that our zip code should not determine our life outcomes. We led Chicago Scholars through cultural transformation and digitization of our curriculum during the pandemic. We built the summer internship program that has generated $300,000 in revenue with 30 paying companies per year. We launched a technology tool that quickly brought on 3,300 users and a 90% adoption rate of high school students and their mentors. We traded off being each other’s bosses. We engaged pro bono consultants to develop revenue models, total addressable market analyses, and growth strategies. With Jeff’s background in technology and sales, he saw the market opportunity and ability to scale with an existing network of 100s of partners and thousands of students. With Brooke’s skill in operationalizing any idea, she built the business model, organizational structure, and strategy to launch REACH.

 

We created REACH Pathways in October 2022. We tried out a new model for growth – one at the intersection of both purpose and profit. Our strategy was to “try and see what happens.” 15 months later, we won SXSW Pitch for Future of Work, the Tools Competition (with over 1,000 applications), the $250K Catalyze Challenge, Fast Company World Changing Ideas List, Chicago Innovation Top 100, 1871 BLK Tech Pitch Competition, and runner up for the Wintrust Business Spotlight. We also participated in the National Science Foundation VITAL Prize Discovery Round, Goodie Nation, and gener8tor and Startups Ignite accelerators. We have had news spots in Built In Chicago, Chicago Inno, Fox32, and EdTech Insiders, among others. We have designed the front end of our new dashboard, tested our new virtual worlds beta platform, 6 AI tools, created over 70 near-peer videos, and won a $50,000 Google grant. And this was just bootstrapping it. Now, REACH has been converted into an L3C, a for-profit entity managed by a non-profit with both a mission purpose and market rate returns to investors.

 

We’ve also hired a badass team of diverse leaders. Kenneth Woodard, who has supported REACH from the beginning, is our Head of Product Development. He designed Chicago Scholars online college search tool and college counseling curriculum that has had a 95% on-time matriculation rate to college. Eric Smith, also a Chicago Scholar, is joining as Head of Technology with a background in engineering and game design and experience at both start-ups and large tech companies. Sasha Peña is joining as Head of Employability after 5 years of managing Chicago Scholars internship programming, she is an expert in industry-specific pathways. And we have our fantastic team of genius Student Advisors, who are contracted with us to help create content, collect and provide feedback on the platform, manage our website and social media, and even write our grant applications. Every single member of our team knows what it means to come from an under-resourced background and overcome. Every single one of us wants to reduce the barriers for the next generation. Our society needs REACH.

 

Join Us in the IRL Game of Life.

 

The momentum has only just begun. With our investment round launching, we’ll be able to scale and grow exponentially. We’re seeking values-aligned investors who will believe in both our mission and market opportunity at the intersection of purpose and profit. We want investors whose role extends beyond financial support – who will bring insights, advice, network, and a wealth of experience. If you are interested in social impact investing or know someone who is, reach out and join us. But don’t wait too long; we’ve just launched our round and we’re already one-third of the way toward our goal. This is just the beginning; watch us transform how talent and opportunity meet and increase access to economic mobility for young people - from Chicago to across the globe.


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