Education / Funding / Jobs / Startups

Phone2Action’s Ximena Hartsock joins Michelle Rhee to launch BuildWithin, raising $2.4M

The startup is helping companies build apprenticeship programs to train employees for tech roles.

(L to R) Ximena Hartsock and Michelle Rhee, cofounders of BuildWithin. (Cropped from courtesy photo by Tony Powell; photo by Flickr user Commonwealth Club, used via a Creative Commons license; image by

This editorial article is a part of How I Got Here Month of's editorial calendar.

After a few years of life out of the public eye, DC tech stalwarts Ximena Hartsock and Michelle Rhee have teamed up to launch a new startup that addresses workforce gaps.

BuildWithin, launched today, is a software platform that helps employers build apprenticeship and workplace training programs. The company was founded by Hartsock and Rhee in 2021 and has raised $2.4 million in pre-seed funding, alongside nearly $9 million in government grants, in a round led by Dundee Venture Capital. Black Capital also participated in the raise.

The company’s software offers end-to-end workplace monitoring, learning, task management and feedback services for apprenticeship programs. 40,000 people are using the platform, according to a company announcement. The company’s founders are also offering its own apprenticeship services via an 80-person IRL class that, according to BuildWithin’s statement, consists entirely of people of color that are either in tech jobs or set to begin them. The company did not immediately respond to’s request for comment.

Hartsock and Rhee are both well-known faces in and around DC. Hartsock is perhaps best known for founding civic tech company Phone2Action (now Capit0l Canary) in 2012 alongside Jeb Ory. In January 2021, she left her role to start a new venture that went undisclosed until now. Rhee, meanwhile, was the former chancellor of DC Public Schools, whose management of personnel and issues left a controversial legacy, before launching education org StudentsFirst in 2010 and stepping down as CEO a few years later.

Hartsock said that Phone2Action had trouble filling tech roles and started an apprenticeship program to solve the problem. Very quickly, the founders realized that many employees could be trained quickly in tech; Several of these workers went on to join companies like Google, Uber and Amazon. Some, she said, even joined the BuildWithin team.

“It was this experience that inspired us to start BuildWithin and create an accelerated path to well-paid technology careers for individuals of any background, geography, demographic group or age,” Hartsock said in a statement. “The beautiful thing is that our platform both solves a major talent problem for employers and creates access to new opportunities for job-seekers.”

On top of the seed funding, the company received $7.9 million in grants from the Department of Labor through its Apprentices Building America program. With these funds, the startup will establish hubs in five jurisdictions around the country, with the hope of growing the number of apprentices in technology and advanced manufacturing. The hubs will host both apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. The pre-seed raises, on the other hand, will go toward expanding the team and building out its products.

The company has seen strong growth so far in its short life. In the first nine months of 2022, Hartsock and Rhee said that BuildWithin had 300% revenue growth and expects similar figures as the year closes out. It also named Cyangate Technologies, the DC Downtown Improvement District, George Washington University and the Northern Virginia Tech Council as customers. It also maintains a relationship with the Department of Labor as an approved national intermediary.

“Employers are overlooking massive talent pools because they are working within outdated frameworks that assume candidates must have college degrees and 3-5 years of experience to be effective,” said Rhee. “By helping companies deploy apprenticeship programs, we are changing how they view candidates. In this new construct, companies are not only prioritizing potential over credential, but also building an increasingly loyal employee base.”

Series: How I Got Here Month 2022

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