Fostering Connections Between Founders and Industry Leaders for a More Inclusive Workforce

By Rich Scudellari


At Penny Jar, we always seek opportunities to connect our innovative founders with executives at industry-leading enterprises. It’s gratifying when we can facilitate these connections in person. Given I (Rich) am in Milwaukee, we’ve been fortunate to develop relationships with some incredible corporations, including Northwestern Mutual, Molson Coors, and GE, all of which have been around for more than a century. Innovation knows no age, so it’s a privilege to bring our founders, only a few years into their journeys, together with these long-standing companies and watch the magic happen. It never disappoints.

Two weeks ago, we hosted Heather Shen (Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer) and Siham Adous (Head of Partnerships) from Praxis Labs. The Praxis Labs team shared the cutting-edge work they are doing to make workplaces more inclusive while hearing from a cross-section of Wisconsin leaders in HR, Talent Development, and DEI about how they foster diversity and inclusion in their culture. What ensued was an engaging discussion with insights from a range of perspectives from larger enterprises, consulting firms, economic development organizations, and academic institutions.

Three key themes emerged from the conversation:

  1. Cross-functional Effort: Embedding a culture of equity and inclusion cannot only sit with one leader or a group. It requires buy-in from all leadership and commitment from all organizational groups.
  2. Data Breeds Accountability: Narratives can be adjusted, but numbers provide stark reminders of progress. Ensuring the team aligns around what it’s trying to achieve and measuring progress is critical to see success. This is an area where Praxis Labs shines, having developed a robust analytics framework that fundamentally shifts how companies approach learning and development and DEI.
  3. Power of perspective: When DEI is a cross-functional effort, and the data is there to guide you, the benefits become ingrained into everything you do. Having the skill to view every decision through the lens of DEI becomes an essential component of your leadership toolkit.

This evening was another example of the value created when emerging founders connect with established leaders. Though there is a dramatic difference in the stage of their respective companies, both sides come away with valuable insights they can leverage as they continue to grow their products and services. Founders learn tactics that have led to enduring success in these large enterprises, and leaders at these established companies discover innovative solutions that enable startups to challenge the status quo. It’s an invaluable opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from quality people solving challenging problems.