Nonprofit Venture Fund Will Back Employment Tech to Unlock Potential of Low-Income, Low-to-Middle-Skill Workers


JFFLabs’ Employment Technology Fund will make direct investments in startups building pathways to economic opportunity with initial backing from the ECMC, Joyce, Kellogg, Rockefeller, and Walmart foundations.

Published jul. 30, 2019

BOSTON (JULY 30, 2019) — National nonprofit JFF today announced its acquisition of the Employment Technology Fund (ETF), a multimillion-dollar social impact fund that invests in technology companies that help close skill gaps and improve economic mobility for low-income workers. The fund will become part of JFFLabs, a unit of JFF that designs and scales new approaches to promoting economic advancement. It will be known as ETF@JFFLabs.

Originally Published on PR Newswire

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The ability to direct capital to the most innovative approaches to meeting workforce needs is an important evolution in JFF’s work. It reflects our growing commitment to use all available tools and work with all compatible partners to unlock the potential of the 75 million Americans who are being left behind as technology transforms nearly every aspect of our modern labor market.

Maria Flynn, president and CEO of JFF

ETF@JFFLabs will make early stage investments in tech startups whose objectives are aligned with JFF’s mission of creating a world where everyone has equal opportunity for economic advancement. The fund will benefit from JFF’s extensive background in the education and workforce sectors, tapping into the organization’s knowledge and networks to source deals, raise capital, and provide value to the companies in which it invests.

Founded in 2017, ETF to date has invested in seven companies:

  • Cell-Ed. One of the winners of JFF’s $1 Billion Wage Gain Challenge, Cell-Ed is a pioneer in mobile learning that delivers language, literacy, and upskilling apps via cell phone, with or without an internet connection.
  • SkillSmart. A provider of a platform that uses powerful analytics to match individuals who receive public assistance with high-paying jobs that draw upon their existing skills and helps them acquire new skills.
  • CareAcademy. An MIT Inclusive Innovation award winner, CareAcademy provides an online education platform that home care agencies can use to train domestic caregivers to fill in-demand home health roles.
  • NorthStar. A program of the Minnesota Literacy Council that offers an online digital literacy assessment tool and provides credentials for employment.
  • Nepris. A web-based platform that connects educators and learners with a network of professionals who can offer real-world insights to prepare students for the future of work.
  • PAIRIN. A social enterprise company that offers an online suite of soft-skill assessment, development, and employment tools for people who face barriers to employment.
  • SignalVine. A provider of a two-way text messaging platform that educational institutions can use to engage students, staff, and employees.

Of the companies in the ETF@JFFLabs portfolio, 60 percent have founders who are people of color and more than half have founders who are women (in comparison, just 7 percent of all companies that have received venture funding have female founders).

“The JFF team’s experience working at the intersection of the traditional workforce systems and innovative programs will provide ETF@JFFLabs with a deep bench of expertise to inform our investment strategy and work with our portfolio companies,” said Yigal Kerszenbaum, founder and managing director of ETF, who joins JFFLabs as managing director for innovative finance, overseeing the organization’s investment strategy. “We are energized to be a part of JFF’s incredible platform. JFF will not only bring expertise and capacity to our portfolio companies, they will send a powerful signal to employers, educators, philanthropic funders, and other investors about where the opportunities are and what’s really working.”

"Today's rapidly changing labor market demands new approaches to training and upskilling that create faster, cheaper pathways to good jobs," said Ryan Craig, managing director at University Ventures, a higher education-focused investment firm. "ETF is seeding investments in companies that have the potential to tackle this challenge head-on, in ways that can help close persistent skill and talent gaps. They've found a great strategic partner in the team at JFF."

ETF@JFFLabs has initial backing from the ECMC, Joyce, Kellogg, Rockefeller, and Walmart foundations.


About JFF
JFF is a national nonprofit working to drive transformation in the American workforce and education systems. For 35 years, JFF has led the way in designing innovative and scalable solutions that create access to economic advancement for all. Join us as we build a future that works. www.jff.org 

For more information, please contact JFF's Communications team at media@jff.org.