A $5 million dollar prize pool calling for breakthrough education-to-employment partnerships to support Colorado’s young people.Meet the Winners!
While promising efforts are emerging in Colorado to equip our young people for the jobs of tomorrow, these efforts are largely happening in silos. This Challenge is founded on the belief that by fostering more coordination between educators, employers, and intermediaries, we can sync up our efforts and help Coloradans access high-quality careers that enable them and the state economy to thrive.
Job opportunities in Colorado are growing. Educators, employers, and young people have historically seen the 4-year degree as the primary pathway to access a quality career. Degrees deliver great value for some, but for young people who are unable to afford or complete a degree, there are very few viable alternatives. We need to work in sync to create viable, affordable, alternative pathways to high-quality careers. For these pathways to be viable, they need to do three things: be transparent about the outcomes and cost, help young people obtain job relevant skills, and ensure employers value, recognize, and hire from these pathways.
The Seed Award is for new or existing partnerships between two or more organizations that are developing a breakthrough solution.
These solutions should:
The Scale Award is for new or existing partnerships with proven solutions that are planning to scale. For venture-backed startups, this means Series A and beyond.
These solutions should:
Capacity building and evaluation support
Peer to peer community and insight sharing
Media and communications coverage
Opportunity to build long-term relationships with Colorado-based funders
Awards will be distributed over 2-3 project phases appropriate for each winning solution. During the application process, finalists will define the implementation timeline, the metrics, a requested total funding amount, and requested payment tranches.
Winners will be held accountable to their metrics and timeline. Winners who demonstrate successful progress on their metrics and timeline will be awarded the pre-defined, agreed-to amount at each phase.
We believe collaboration is necessary to create true impact in the education-to-employment space. Partnerships had to consist of two or more cross-sector organizations that agreed to cooperate and advance mutual interests.
Partnering organizations can include, but are not limited to:
Small, medium, and enterprise employers
School districts and local school leaders
Nonprofit organizations and associations
Government leaders and state agencies
To be eligible, partnerships had to:
a new or existing partnership looking to pilot a new solution for young Coloradans.
a new or existing partnership seeking to scale an existing solution to new young Coloradans.
Have at least one Colorado-based partner
NOTE: Challenge Partners were not eligible to apply. Challenge Partner affiliates and grantees were eligible to apply. Challenge Partners did not determine final selection criteria, the judging process, or final award decisions.
All applications—both Seed and Scale—were required to:
Describe how the partnership will collaborate to support Coloradans ages 12-24 in making informed choices and obtaining job-relevant skills to build a high-quality career.
Lay out a clear vision for how the partnership will coordinate efforts and foster alignment across the education-to-employment system.
Describe how the solution offers an effective, affordable, accessible solution for learners to make informed choices and obtain job-relevant skills required by the market.
Define the specific metrics to measure solution effectiveness, affordability, and accessibility for the partnership and solution.
In addition, finalists were required to:
Include at minimum a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the partner organizations.
Define the solution implementation timeline.
Request a total funding amount and payment schedule.
Round 1 applications due
Finalists’ Round 2 applications due
All entries were evaluated based on the following dimensions:
Partnership Operations, Leadership, and Capacity
Level of alignment, degree of commitment, and experienced leadership among partnering institutions
Solution fit with challenge objectives and degree of operational effectiveness
Solution Reach and Replicability
Magnitude of the number of learners reached and the potential for the solution to scale or replicate
Solution Cost and Sustainability
Value delivered by the proposed solution and likelihood of initiative sustainability
Applications were reviewed by a panel of interdisciplinary judges, including industry experts, educators, philanthropists, investors, and entrepreneurs.
Announcing the SyncUp Colorado Winners!
The winning partnerships, which each earned unanimous support from the judges, collectively bring modern apprenticeships and hybrid college approaches to serve broad geographies and beneficiaries statewide and represent solutions across fast growing industries in Colorado including health care and construction.
Here are our Winners:
Grow Our Own: Partnership for Equity in Health Careers, led by Colorado Community Health Network (CCHN), is a solution for high school and young adult learners to build awareness of health careers opportunities and provide an accessible pathway for entry and advancement to meaningful and financially sustainable careers, with a specific focus on Medical Assisting as a first step. This solution is supported through formal partnerships with the National Institute for Medical Assistant Advancement (NIMAA), Colorado Safety Net Collaborative (CSNC), Doctors Care, Mission Medical Center, Mountain Family Community Health Centers, and River Valley Family Health Centers.
EPIC Center Featuring Tiny Homes, led by the Colorado River Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and Copper Key Tiny Homes, provides opportunities for students in multiple Western Slope school districts to learn and gain experience with a variety of construction techniques through hands-on construction of tiny homes and produce affordable housing. The completed tiny homes will be sold and the proceeds reinvested in construction materials for future builds.
The Linked Education: Providing a Continuum of Experiences in Agricultural Industries and the Food System, led by Colorado State University (CSU) in partnership with industry leaders and employers at Together We Grow, the Colorado Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association, Northeastern Colorado high schools Briggsdale and Fleming and the CSU Spur Campus, will support young adults in exploring the role of innovation in the future of agriculture and modern careers in agri-food industries. The data-driven solution will provide new micro-credentialled professional and technical skills across the workforce pipeline via flexible online training programs, career experiences with agri-food industry partners, and teacher professional development. Programs will include digital badge modules, reinforced through experiential learning in Food Systems Resiliency and Regenerative Agriculture, community-based student internships, and professional development for teachers across Colorado focused on exposure to and incorporation of cutting-edge technologies and skills in the agri-food systems. The agri-food industries are critical to Colorado’s economy—employing more than 195,000 Coloradoans and representing 4.6% of the state’s GSP. The unmet demand for employees in these sectors threatens not only the resiliency of the food system, but also the sustainability of numerous Colorado communities who are facing never-before-seen crises. This solution will develop a pipeline and infrastructure to link young Coloradoans to career opportunities while also enhancing the future of Colorado.
Colorado Health Careers Collaborative, led by Arapahoe Community College and the Community College of Denver, brings together three of Colorado’s largest health employers -- Centura Health, HealthOne, and DaVita, as well as Beyond Campus Innovations, CollegeInvest Colorado, the Arapahoe/Douglas Workforce Center, and Denver, Englewood, Elbert, Kiowa, Littleton, Elizabeth, and Cherry Creek School Districts. Together, they will co-create equitable, health career pathways for Colorado youth curriculum around the 10 fastest growing health occupations including postsecondary certification, career navigation, and job shadow experiences.
Unleashing Scale in CareerWise Modern Youth Apprenticeship, a partnership led by CareerWise brings together more than 200 employers, 99 school partners across multiple school districts, state government, and higher education institutions. The partnership will strengthen and expand partnerships with additional employers and education providers improving the experience of 250+ apprentices and creating an additional 500 new apprenticeships throughout the state. It will scale the only youth apprenticeship model that provides in-school high school youth with paid employment in occupations and industries including financial and business services, technology, manufacturing, health care and nonprofits. Apprenticeships are designed to support high school youth to launch their careers alongside their continued education, reducing time and cost to complete a post-secondary credential and enter high-wage employment.
Eagle County Collaborative for Career Pathways, a partnership between YouthPower365, Vail Valley Partnership, and Eagle County Schools, will support Eagle County youth grades 8-12 as they gain the knowledge, skills, and expertise necessary to obtain and sustain a quality career. The Eagle County Collaborative for Career Pathways seeks to bridge the gap between education and employment, grow the number of students pursuing meaningful modern/non-college careers after school, and reduce gaps in the skilled workforce pipeline to feed into the local community.
We received over 130 applications that represented communities across Colorado, and brought cross-sector partners together in inspiring ways. The partnerships and solutions presented innovative models, from pathways to apprenticeships to career-connected learning, to create opportunities for young Coloradans to access meaningful careers in over 40 high growth industries, ranging from clean energy to cybersecurity to health care. We made difficult decisions among a high-caliber pool of applicants.
The full list of Finalists from which our Winners were selected are:
The Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Highway, led by Metropolitan State University of Denver, is a solution for students from middle school through young adulthood to address the skills gap and manufacturing career misperceptions by attracting these learners and supporting them through post-secondary training to enter the advanced manufacturing workforce.
Closing the Skills Gaps and Accelerating the Education-to-Employment Pipeline Through the Infusion of Work-based Learning Simulations, led by the Foundation for Educational Excellence, dba Colorado Homebuilding Academy delivers VR work-based simulations that increase awareness and quickly train individuals in the needed skills required to obtain credentials in the construction industry.
The Colorado Climate Career Accelerator, led by Julius Education and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory delivers a new bootcamp style offering that provides learners with foundational workforce competencies and a clean tech industry navigation tool aligned to current Colorado clean tech job opportunities.
The EPIC Center Featuring Tiny Homes, led by Colorado River BOCES and Copper Key Tiny Homes, helps students in multiple Western Slope school districts to learn and gain experience with a variety of construction techniques through the hands-on construction of tiny homes.
Grow Our Own: Partnership for Equity in Health Careers, led by Colorado Community Health Network (CCHN), is a solution for high school and young adult learners to build awareness of health careers opportunities and provide an accessible pathway for entry and advancement to meaningful and financially sustainable careers, with a specific focus on Medical Assisting as a first step.
The Linked Education: Providing a Continuum of Experiences in Agricultural Industries and the Food System, led by Colorado State University delivers valuable professional and technical skills to high school, postsecondary, and young adult workforce through flexible training programs, career experiences with agrifood industry partners, and professional development to enhance the agriculture and food systems.
The PCC + Fuel & Iron Apprenticeship Program, led by the Fuel & Iron Food Hall and Pueblo Community College, supports new culinary apprenticeships to develop the food service industry workforce in Pueblo.
Rural Homes: Building Skills for Careers, led by the Telluride Foundation, delivers construction trade skills and certifications to rural youth, filling an immediate need to get new workers into the labor market.
The Trinidad School District, in partnership withGeneration Schools Network and the Colorado Rural Education Collaboratives, has proposed a community Green Space as an employment solution that includes a horticulture education program centered around a greenhouse, community garden, composting, wildlife management, and hydroponics, offering students the opportunity to explore multiple potential career paths and gain CTE certificates and concurrent enrollment credits at Trinidad State Junior College through taking part in real-world experiences in community-relevant industries.
A Youth-Driven Approach to a Sustainable and Just Future for All, led by GRID Alternatives Colorado, delivers the GRID's Solar Installation Basics Training (IBT) Lab Lite for Students Program to provide technical skills development to students who are interested in entering the green energy economy.
Career Education in Rural Colorado Acceleration, led by Fort Lewis College, has proposed a solution for diverse high school and college age students by delivering job embedded apprenticeships to further rural economic development.
The CareerWise Youth Apprenticeship Initiative, led by the Vail Valley Partnership, has proposed a solution to expand workforce development pathways toward careers for youth in Eagle County Schools, grades 8-12.
The Colorado Health Careers Collaborative, led by Arapahoe Community College and the Community College of Denver, brings together some of Colorado’s largest health employers, community colleges, an innovative Colorado based instructional design company, and 7 rural and urban k-12 school districts to co-create equitable health career paths for Colorado youth that feed directly into some of Colorado’s fastest growing health careers.
The Colorado Industry Talent Accelerator for Colorado, led by MSU Denver, has proposed a solution for the workforce starting at age 16 to deliver long-term, sustainable careers across the construction industry.
The Colorado Workforce Pay-It-Forward Fund, led by The Colorado Health Foundation, Delta Dental Foundation and Community First Foundation, has proposed a financing solution for low-income CO workers to access re- and upskilling opportunities using Career Impact Bonds.
Cyber SyncUp, led by Activate Work, has proposed a solution for young adults to prepare for and access careers in cybersecurity, leveraging apprenticeships as a talent development strategy for Colorado employers.
Embracing Our New Reality, led by Boys & Girls Clubs in Colorado and TRANSFR, has proposed a solution for young people from under-resourced communities in rural and suburban areas to deliver immersive career exploration through virtual reality.
Fly with Flockjay, led by Flockjay, has proposed a solution for Colorado's young adults to deliver education-to-workforce training and job placement for careers in tech sales.
GROW (Get Ready for Opportunities at Work) Jeffco, a Scale Applicant, led by the GROW Jeffco partner organizations (Arvada Chamber of Commerce, Jefferson County Business and Workforce Center, Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation, Jeffco Public Schools, Jeffco Schools Foundation, and Red Rocks Community College) has proposed a solution for Jeffco high school students through developing a Career Hub Model coupled with deep business engagement focused on high school student career exploration and skill development and school staff training and development with the intent to expand successful model components to all seventeen high schools in Jeffco within three years.
The Holistic Culinary Training to Employment Pipeline Program, led by Colorado Restaurant Foundation and Work Options, has proposed a solution for Coloradans age 18-24 from underserved communities that delivers meaningful careers through a six-week restaurant job training program.
Modern Youth Apprenticeship, facilitated by CareerWise, has proposed key investments in building employer capacity, improving student readiness for work, and reimagining access to post-secondary benefits, as a means to scale the proven impact of high-quality youth apprenticeship already emerging around the state.
The Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Program, led by Mi Casa Resource Center in partnership with key employers, educational institutions, and system partners, has proposed a solution for in-school and disconnected youth to achieve long-term success by delivering comprehensive workforce trainings, coaching, and opportunities for postsecondary credit in four key industries.
Reimagining College to Close Colorado’s Equity Gaps in Credential and Career Attainment, led by AdvanceEDU, has proposed a solution that harnesses the power of partnerships across higher education, K-12, nonprofits, and employers to create seamless pathways for young Coloradans that are flexible, affordable, deeply-supported, and career-connected.
The RuralTech Workforce Alliance, led by a partnership across K12, Higher Education, and Industry in Fremont County, has proposed a solution for all K12 students to deliver Economic Development for the region, talent for the local tech sector, and work-based learning for local youth.
THE SYNK: Building Ships to STEM the Gap,, led by the Building Ships Executive-Level Advisory Board at STEM School Highlands Ranch, has proposed a solution for mentorships, internships, and collaborative learning adventures that provide real-world solutions for students, industries, communities, and businesses to make sure every student has the kind of "ships" that promote kindness, readiness for future careers, and passion for infinite opportunities to help humanity.
Trained in Colorado, Hired in Colorado: Addressing the Skills Gap with Virtual Work Experience, led by Forage, has proposed a solution for post-secondary students to undertake free, open-access online training courses designed by leading Coloradan employers, empowering thousands of young Coloradans to obtain job-relevant skills towards quality careers.
The vWBL HQ, led by Jobs for the Future, Jackrabbit Learning Experience, the Colorado Rural Workforce Consortium, and the Freemont Economic Development Corporation, has proposed a solution for youth and employers to deliver high quality virtual work-based learning experiences.
Our judges collectively selected the challenge winners.
Luella Chavez D’Angelo
Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Inclusive Economy
Luella Chavez D’Angelo serves as Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Inclusive Economy, a statewide movement of design, intent, and action led by CEOs and Leaders to reshape the economy in Colorado. Luella is also a Senior Advisor with the International Center for Executive Options (ICEO) with Lee Hecht and Harrison, where she serves as a trusted coach and thought partner to senior leaders during their career transitions.
Luella is a C-suite executive who has led global multifunctional teams in marketing, communications, government relations, finance, human relations, business operations, and corporate social responsibility, and has worked in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. She has a passion for helping organizations reach their Diversity and Inclusion goals and is known for working with and for purpose-driven brands and mission-minded organizations.
Luella served as Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Earlier, she was Vice-Chancellor, Enterprise Development, and General Manager for the University of Colorado, where she was responsible for a new, innovative education delivery model for executive education programs. Luella received her MBA in Marketing/Management from The University of New Mexico’s Robert O. Anderson School of Management.
She is currently a board member of the Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation and the Denver Scholarship Foundation and is a member of the International Women's Forum of Colorado. She has received numerous awards for community service and was named a Top 10 Leader by Hispanic Executive Magazine.
Managing Director of University Ventures
Ryan is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of University Ventures. Ryan’s commentary on where the puck is going in higher education regularly appears in the UV Letter, Forbes, TechCrunch, Inside Higher Education, and VentureBeat, among others. He is the author of College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), which profiles the coming shift toward competency-based education and hiring. He is also the author of the upcoming A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College (Ben Bella, 2018), which describes the critical importance of last-mile training and the emergence of bootcamps, income share programs, and staffing models as preferred pathways to good first jobs.
Prior to UV, Ryan led the Education & Training sector at Warburg Pincus where he was the founding Director of Bridgepoint Education (NYSE: BPI), one of the largest online universities in the United States. His prior experience in online education was at Columbia University. From 2004 to 2010, Ryan founded and built Wellspring, a national network of boarding schools and summer camps for overweight and obese children, adolescents, and young adults. He began his career at McKinsey & Co. Ryan received bachelor's degrees summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University, and his law degree from the Yale Law School.
While Ryan knows where the puck is going in higher education, he actually knows what to do with a puck because he hails from Toronto, Canada.
Founder of Mayfly Outdoors
David Dragoo is a Colorado born entrepreneur and founder of several businesses specializing in manufacturing and real estate. Most notably, David is the founder of Mayfly Outdoors, an outdoor products company proudly based in Montrose, Colorado. The company’s brands include fly fishing tackle businesses Abel®, Ross Reels® and Airflo®. The company employs approximately 120 people with operations in California, Colorado, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, David leads the Colorado Outdoors project on the Western Slope, an award-winning 164-acre public-private partnership aimed to revitalize the community and restore the local riverway. In this capacity, heworks closely with private equity partners, local public entities, and conservation organizations.
David earned a bachelor's degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2009. He was recognized by former Gov. John Hicklenlooper on the Senate floor in 2018 and named one of the Top-5 most influential young professionals in Colorado by ColoradoBiz magazine. David was also appointed to the Colorado’s Economic Development Commission in 2019 by Colorado Sen. Leroy M. Garcia, Jr., Senate President. David is also a member of Telluride's chapter of Young Presidents Organization (YPO).
David is passionate about the outdoor industry, public lands, and river conservation. He lives on the Western Slope with his wife Heidi and their dog Remy.
Alison R. Griffin
Senior Vice President with Whiteboard Advisors
Alison R. Griffin has over twenty years of experience working at the intersection of education and employment, policy, and practice. Alison is a Senior Vice President with Whiteboard Advisors, a social impact agency that helps entrepreneurs, donors and investors navigate the complex intersection of policy, the media and technology. Alison’s experience on the implementation side of higher education and workforce development, and as a grant-maker, is reflected in her practical understanding of how policy shapes outcomes. Her career in postsecondary education policy includes two terms as a policy advisor to the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce, as well as a policy advisor role with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), where she guided state policy development. Alison managed her own higher education government relations and policy practice in Denver, Colorado for four years before joining Strada Education Network. During her tenure with Strada, Alison was a member of the senior leadership team, leading external affairs, government relations, and national engagement activities.
Alison has been appointed by Governor Jared Polis to serve Colorado Mesa University as a Trustee. She serves as Chair of the Board. Alison also serves as a member of the American Enterprise Institute’s Conservative Education Reform Network and as a member of AEI’s Leadership Network where she contributes to national policy conversations concerning college affordability, financial aid and innovative student finance tools.
Alison is a regular contributor to Forbes and EdSurge and her opinion pieces have appeared in Bloomberg and The Washington Post. She holds a M.Ed. in College Student Affairs Administration from the University of Georgia, and a BBA in Organizational Behavior and Business Policy and BA in Psychology from Southern Methodist University.
SVP Strategic Partnerships at Guild Education
Kristen Hamilton is a technology entrepreneur and CEO with multiple exits and is currently SVP Strategic Partnerships at Guild Education, a unicorn in the education to employment space. The primary focus of her career has been driving impact in the technology, talent and education industries. Kristen is a recognized expert in education and HR technology spaces, with a deep focus on the intersection of education and employment. She is currently a board director of growth stage companies Top Hat, Aduro, and Strivr, and is chair of the board of Directors’ Cup Invitational Ski Classic. She co-founded predictive hiring software leader Koru, and was it’s CEO until it was acquired by UK based Capfinity. She previously co-founded e-commerce pioneer Onvia and took it public on NASDAQ. She has served as an executive for large enterprises including Microsoft, where she was head of educator strategy, and World Learning, where she was COO. She grew up near Montreal, and currently lives in Seattle. She has a passion for skiing, biking, rowing, and spending time outdoors with her two daughters and her golden retriever.
Rebecca F. Holmes
President & CEO of Colorado Education Initiative
Rebecca has led the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) since 2017 and is considered an expert on current issues and innovation in public education. CEI is a statewide nonprofit organization that invests time, expertise, and dollars in K-12 public education. Previously, Holmes was the Associate Commissioner for Innovation, Choice, and Engagement at the Colorado Department of Education. Her areas of responsibility included leading Next Generation Learning initiatives, identifying areas for innovation aimed at preparing students for learning, work, and life in the 21st century while also supporting systems-level innovation activities at the district and state levels. Additionally, she oversaw the state’s work in postsecondary readiness, dropout prevention, student engagement, health and wellness, and adult education.
Rebecca spent many years as the CEO of a network of public charter schools serving over 90% low-income students. She was responsible for more than tripling the size of the organization and leading the schools to record levels of student achievement. She has been a program officer,committee member and Trustee with several Colorado philanthropic foundations and also has private sector experience as a Senior Consultant with Deloitte Consulting, where she worked with a variety of clients on change management, talent strategies, and organization design.
Rebecca is a Colorado native, a graduate of Yale University, and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. She began her career as a teacher in Denver’s Cole neighborhood.
Rebecca is active on several boards and regularly writes content on future-focused parenting and education in local and national outlets including Working Mother Magazine.
Dwight D. Jones
Senior Deputy Superintendent, Equity and Engagement at Denver Public Schools
Dwight Jones currently serves as Denver Public Schools Senior Deputy Superintendent, Equity and Engagement. Prior to that, he served as Senior Vice President of Equity, Inclusion & Urban Markets at McGraw-Hill Education. In his role, he worked with leading national, regional and local associations and organizations to find new ways to partner together to address the needs of administrators, teachers and students in some of the largest and most academically diverse U.S. school districts.
Before joining McGraw-Hill Education, Dwight served as Discovery Communications’ Superintendent in Residence and provided strategic guidance and advice to the organization’s Education Division. Prior to that, he served as the superintendent of Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada, the nation’s fifth largest school district. He also oversaw the development of the Colorado Growth Model, which depicts the overall achievement of individual schools and districts to administrators, educators and the public and has since been implemented in more than 15 states. He has been awarded the AASA Distinguished Service Award (2019), the NAACP’s Heartbeat Award (2013), the Asian Chamber of Commerce Community Achievement Award (2013), Chairman’s Award of Excellence, Nevada Latin Chamber of Commerce (2012), Alumni Fellow for Kansas State University’s College of Education (2011), and Troops to Teachers Hall of Fame (2010).
SyncUp Colorado Sponsor
The Competition Sponsor, ZOMA Foundation, funded the Challenge and its development. ZOMA Foundation is part of ZOMALAB. ZOMALAB was founded by Lucy Ana and Ben Walton, whose families have shown a multigenerational commitment to expanding excellent educational opportunities for all. ZOMALAB believes in bringing together many diverse perspectives to foster collaboration, challenge conventional thinking, and allow innovation to thrive. For this Challenge, ZOMALAB partnered with key leaders in Colorado and the education-to-employment ecosystem.
SyncUp Colorado Challenge Partners
Challenge Partners provided their expertise in the education-to-employment ecosystem to support the Challenge, advise applicants, participate in events, and amplify the Challenge. Partners were not eligible to apply for the Challenge, and did not have influence over the selection criteria, judging process, or winner selection.
SyncUp Colorado Implementation Partner
The Implementation Partner, Common Group, is a collective impact accelerator for education and economic opportunity. Common Group led the development and delivery of the Challenge, supporting ZOMALAB, Challenge Partners, and applicants to advance the SyncUp Colorado mission.