After meeting at Teach For America and spending the next two decades working with each other, Escalate founders Sienna Daniel and Sean Segal noticed something. As nonprofit workers, businesses just weren’t taking them seriously.
“[Daniel said,] ‘They’re never gonna take us seriously unless we’re actually solving a problem that affects their bottom line,’” CEO Segal told Technical.ly. “So we put our heads together and thought, how could we still serve the population we want to serve and get them into better jobs in a way that impacts companies’ bottom lines?”
In 2022, that turned into Silver Spring, Maryland-based Escalate. The six-person startup created a tech tool to address the turnover among frontline workers — hourly, often low-income employees in roles that don’t require a degree or other training. Escalate works to prevent turnover while also helping these employees move up in their careers and double salaries in a 12-to-18-month period. The company just raised $1.26 million in a pre-seed round led by RockCreek’s Racial Equity Capital Fund, with participation from Potencia Ventures, TEDCO, Techstars, ECMC Foundation, Gurtin Ventures, Blue Zone Partners, Future State and Brad Collins.
There are two major causes of turnover for frontline workers, Escalate President Daniel said: a lack of pathways for advancement and struggles with absenteeism. Escalate’s product scrapes data from human resources information systems and applicant tracking systems to identify talent most likely to turn over in 90 days. Simultaneously, the company helps with stability and helping workers move up.
For workers, Escalate has live support seven days a week. It also has automation for employees missing work that will ask why they can’t make it and offer solutions, like an Uber code for those with car trouble. After establishing a solution for that day, employees must have a session with coaches for a longer-term solution. The automation is for the most frequent employee issues, which frees up the Escalate staff to work on unique circumstances.
According to Daniel and Segal, workers need an asynchronous program for training because schedules change so often. They also need more support and to feel like they’re part of a community, as they often suffer from imposter syndrome and benefit from working with others who have shared experiences.
Escalate picks two to three pathways they feel are best suited for each candidate, and helps them select one after the first six months of programming. The pathways are based on the company’s needs and what suits each frontline worker, but could be anything from management roles at a store to recruitment and sales to entry-level IT positions.
This benefits workers by increasing their income, Daniel said, but also helps companies access a more diverse pool of candidates.
“Most companies, especially enterprise companies, don’t actually have a pathway created for folks to go from a frontline role into that next level,” Daniel said. “We work with them to identify what are the best-suited pathways for the time being, both in terms of what they have availability and need for but then also some of the interests of the frontline workers.”
Daniel said that many members of her own family are frontline workers and have a hard time moving up in the companies they work for. Instead, she said, many frequently switch jobs and companies in the hopes of moving up but continue in the same cycle.
“My own experience outside of what we also know just from research and data is that frontline workers don’t have an avenue, they want to get out, they want to make a better living, they want to be able to make a wage that allows them to support their families,” Daniel said. “But there’s there’s no path to doing that.”
With the funds, Segal said Escalate will build out some of its automation technology. It will also be adding about five to ten roles over the next few months, half of which will be tech roles. Escalate also just signed its first two contracts, he said, which are worth about $2.3 million and call for training 1,200 to 1,500 people next year. The team hopes to launch those trainings in February of next year. Longer-term, the company hopes to train 6,000 people in 2025, and 24,000 in the year following, in accordance with the needs of one of its customers.
“The passion that we have for serving this population and creating systems change in the US is what has made this venture with Escalate so powerful,” Daniel said.
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