Mentra aims to diminish social strain in post-Covid talent pool

Anna Vod · September 8, 2023 · Short URL:

A revamp of the hiring process is long overdue. This startup says neuroinclusion is the answer

Finding a job can be agonizing for an individual whose social skills are not his or her forte due to some natural neurological divergence. In fact, in the post-Covid unemployment free-flow, many felt first hand that social anxiety could hit even the most socially astute.

Here comes Mentra, a neurodiversity talent platform aiming to ease the angst. The startup matches neurodivergents with jobs that align with the special needs of the candidate, whether s/he has autism, ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, or another form of cognitive diversity. In turn, for the enterprises that sign up, Mentra provides the diversity of thought, its website states.

The matching process involves AI analysis of 76+ factors that Mentra says “optimize for career success without relying on traditional measures of job fit.” The company caringly calls the abilities of individuals with neurodivergence “neuro-exceptional potential,” arguing that typical job boards miss out on key factors in a candidate’s neurotype.

And Mentra is fundamentally rebuilding the hiring process, aiming to capture a slice of the $762 billion global HR and recruitment industry. And – as Mentra’s CEO said – driving unprecedented value in terms of employee retention and productivity.

The co-founder and CEO of Mentra, Jhillika Kumar, told Vator that neurodivergent talent spreads across many industries. “Although technology and software development are key areas where there is highest employer interest, this talent pool also has exceptional individuals in marketing, finance, cybersecurity, analytics, quality assurance, and many other creative and process-oriented roles,” she wrote in an email.

Some even argue that neurodivergents are a better fit for certain roles. Shine Capital’s Mo Koyfman is quoted by TechCrunch as saying that roles involving data labeling are better accomplished by individuals with Asperger’s syndrome or other forms of autism.

Mentra is backed by OpenAI’s Sam Altman, who invested $1 million in the pre-seed round in February 2022 and contributed to the $3.5 million seed round led by Shine Capital this year. Other investors were Verissimo, Charlotte Fund, Full Circle, and angel investors including David Apple and Dawn Dobras.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Mentra was conceived by Kumar and Conner Reinhardt in 2019, while the two studied at Georgia Tech. Then, the Covid pandemic hit and altered the job landscape.

All members of Mentra’s managing team have close experience with neurodivergence, either with family members, as in the case of chief executive Kumar, or first-hand, as in the case of chief operating officer Reinhardt and chief tech officer Shea Belsky.

In fact, Kumar said, the neurodivergent team won both a government grant and a Microsoft grant while working from home under the pandemic-induced isolation – and they were able to manage a full-time job while building Mentra as a side-hustle.

“The post-Covid landscape has brought increased attention to remote work, accommodations, and flexible job opportunities,” according to Kumar. “This has created a more inclusive environment for job seekers with social anxiety or other neurodivergent traits, as being in the comfort of a controllable environment can prove beneficial.”

Today, Mentra counts more than 33,000 neurodivergent job seekers compared to 300 in March 2022. Among the enterprises subscribed to the neurodivergent job network are Harvard Business Publishing, Trellix, and Auticon. The platform is free for job seekers while enterprise clients can get subscription-based packages. Service providers join the Mentra ecosystem at no cost, according to the company.

Kumar said that companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of neuroinclusion in the face of labor shortages, growing mental health concerns, and employees’ so-called “quiet quitting.”

“Over $1 trillion is spent annually on turnover, a symptom of a flawed hiring process,” Kumar told Vator.

“By solving for the most complex use case, the neurodiverse, we aim to build a better hiring process for everyone,” she said. “Our approach targets the root causes of these issues, offering an avenue for companies to see improved retention and productivity by prioritizing neuroinclusion.”

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