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A Lab for The Moonshot of Our Time

June 11, 2018

At a Glance

Launching at Shift Forum, JFF Labs partners with innovators to scale economic advancement solutions for the 99 percent.

John Battelle, Founder of NewCo
Practices & Centers

This blog was originally published on

As many of you know, this year’s Shift Forum is the second annual gathering of leaders convening to address big issues we won’t have a second chance to solve. If last year’s event symbolized a collective recognition of the problems we face, this year marks a shared commitment to move the needle in addressing them. Key pillars include business transformation, politics and policy, and the future of work. All of us are concerned with how we will pull off the moonshot of our time — establishing social contracts for the 99 percent. Specifically, how will we sustain families and opportunity for dignified work in the face of automation and rapid change?

To that end, I’m heartened to spotlight a unique effort — the launch of JFFLabs — and I am equally thrilled to say it was created as a result of last year’s Shift Forum.

I caught up recently with Maria Flynn, CEO of JFF, a leading national nonprofit that drives transformational change in the American labor and training markets. Maria was a powerful star at the Department of Labor before spending 10 years leading JFF’s Workforce team. Last year she became CEO at JFF and is casting a vision for a future in which economic mobility, dignified work, and automation are equal partners in the American dream.

At this year’s Shift Forum, Maria and JFF are launching an innovation focused effort to apply JFF’s 35 years of leadership and national scale to bridge new economy partners to traditional systems. One of the more intriguing things about JFFLabs is that it doesn’t assume Silicon Valley has all the answers.Instead, it builds a bridge between the crucial American systems that have received tens of billions of dollars of Federal and State investment in the last decade which JFF directly influences, and the innovators that can improve and build upon those systems.

In the past, JFF has guided organizations like YearUp and Center for Employment Opportunities in their formative and growth phases. Now, JFF is focusing more squarely on scalable technology focused entrepreneurs that will accelerate outcomes and incubate new solutions. The guiding truth around Maria’s work is that it’s now on us — business and public sector alike — to create economic advancement at scale. Companies, partners, public officials and EIRs alike are buying in. Of note, the formation of JFF Labs features:

  • JFF’s first Entrepreneurs in Residence: Katrina Stevens, former Deputy Director of the Office of EdTech at the U.S. Department of Education; and Josh Copus, Former COO and VP of the National Association Workforce Boards.
  • The first two companies in JFFLabs’ Inaugural Acceleration Cohort: SV.Academy, a training company focused on developing women, minority and under-resourced pipelines for sales or business development jobs; and Forge which helps hourly workers with on-demand scheduling with retailers/restaurants.
  • Type/Code, the Brooklyn-based design and development firm has agreed to provide product development services to JFFLabs.
  • Several leading national partners and the first finalized JFFLabs cohort will all be unveiled at the JFF Horizons conference in June

An initial focus of JFFLabs will be on work-based learning innovators and disruptors in conjunction with JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning. The Center is another key initiative Flynn is spearheading with JFF and is being directed by Eric Seleznow, a former key leader in the US Department of Labor under President Obama. The initial $3 million investment into the Center came from Walmart (where Shift Forum alumni Kathleen McLaughlin is SVP and Foundation President). And for a final NewCo through-line, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper set the tone for the launch of the Center earlier this year in D.C. and he will be at Shift this year talking about his work leading a public-private partnership to create 20,000 apprentices in Colorado by 2026.

Big issues require big plays. And the players in the game will be at Shift Forum.

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