John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past nine years. He knows their ups, their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Patrick Mineer, CEO & Founder of Golden Path Solutions.
1. Will you please tell us your Golden Path Solutions elevator pitch?
Golden Path Solutions helps to identify a student’s natural talent and match them to careers and employers who need that talent. We use a student’s real-world school experiences to help them better understand their traits, skills, and potential career fits. At the same time, we work with employers to identify the qualities that lead to success in specific roles and communicate that to students to drive awareness and interest. Finally, we facilitate matches between an employer’s needs and a student’s skills. We can establish agreements where an employer might be able to influence a student’s educational path in exchange for a work agreement and tuition reimbursement. All this is done through our application “Compass” which is being rolled out to students across the region.
2. Will you please elaborate on the process of getting employer’s job qualities information into the system, so that students can learn about jobs that may suit them well?
We share what are called Career Profiles with students in Compass. The profiles are unique to an employer and describe the characteristics of a job such as a day in the life, what skills are needed, what school experiences might indicate a student would be a good fit for a role, career paths, educational needs, and other information. They are written from the context of a student wanting to learn more, to help see themselves in a role to determine if it’s a fit. How do we build these profiles? We have one option where an employer puts this information together themselves and posts it in Compass. We can also build the profile ourselves by interviewing an employer’s best people in a role. When we do this, we work find out why they are successful, how they got to where they are and the path they followed. Once a profile is completed, it literally takes minutes for that profile to be in our application and visible to thousands of students.
3. What was the inspiration for creating this system and your startup?
Since 2012, I’ve owned a consulting organization called Blue Fire Consulting. One of my clients had a unique role, something between a marketer and a software developer, and had a hard time finding a person who really fit the bill. At the same time, my daughter was asking questions about what she should do when she graduates high school and what career she should pursue. I realized she had the raw talent needed for success in this particular role, but she had no idea such a role even existed. I thought “what if there was a way to help students understand careers they might be a great fit for but didn’t even know where a thing, and if an employer could partner with a student that has the raw talent needed and get them the education for that future job, and do that in a way that scales and benefits both?” Golden Path was born!
4. What were your early first steps to take that from an idea to developing a business around it?
We did a ton of research. We talked to employers, co-workers, government leaders, students, teachers, family, etc. and got their feedback. We put together slides that helped articulate the process and share the vision. We reviewed that with more and more people to get feedback on the process, the name, even the data model used to help identify skills. We got great feedback from everyone, we even down to features in the application. I can’t stress enough how valuable it was to get so many different perspectives and use that feedback to get to where we are now. All those people we talked to are now our biggest supporters.
5. From knowing you for several years now, you are really good about fostering genuine relationships and networks with many people. Can you tell me how you best go about that and why it’s important to you?
I must say that when we first started out, we didn’t hold back much in terms of who we would talk to. I remember talking to a retired local superintendent of schools about the idea and looking back I almost cringe at how raw our thinking was. What got us through that and what I think resonated the most was the passion we had around solving this problem of helping students and employers plan for the future. It just seemed like such a better way of doing things, and I think people felt that enthusiasm and got on board. We started to see how this work doesn’t just help drive better awareness and outcomes for students and employers, but it became obvious how Golden Path could be one tool in the toolbox for workforce development, including playing a part in helping strengthen the connectivity between the different people in the ecosystem.
6. Are your stakeholder newsletters, which I really enjoy receiving by the way, an example of building the connectivity within that workforce ecosystem?
The newsletter has been a great way for us to share our momentum, give credit to the folks who support us while highlighting what we’re learning as we go. One thing that is so fortunate for what we do is that we do get to connect with so many different types of individuals, whether that be school administrators, teachers or counselors, employers, government officials (both state, regional, and city), developers, other entrepreneurs, etc. It’s fun to share that information with our stakeholders in our newsletter. It also helps us maintain a connection to our network, communicating with them regularly. And we constantly expand our network; any event that I attend, even the ones I’m not sure I’ve got the energy for that day, always leads to a new connection or relationship that might come into play at some point in the future. We always ask if we can add them to our newsletter. At some point, we’ll go back through the updates and relive the journey.
7. It’s very exciting about your recent partnership with XAP to integrate your application Compass with their solution RUReady.ND.gov for students in North Dakota. Will you please tell me more about what this integration is and what it means for students in the state?
RUReady.ND.gov has been used in schools across ND for almost 20 years and is very familiar to students and school administrators. As we were working on Compass, we were asked several times if we’d ever integrate with RUReady.ND.gov or single sign-on, and we found the perfect opportunity to do so with Work-Based Learning (WBL). For WBL to be successful, there needs to be strong partnerships between schools and employers, which is the ecosystem we’ve been building since we started so it was a natural fit. Our Compass profiling model, which is how students learn about their talents, will be shared with every single student across the state as a component of RUReady. ND.gov, as will our ability to share information about employer careers and workbased learning opportunities. We’re super excited about it. Having said that, Compass will also be able to operate fully stand-alone in schools that don’t have access to RUReady.ND.gov, such as Minnesota schools for example.
8. Can you give the Fargo INC! readers a basic primer to describe what is Work-Based Learning?
Think of WBL as a way for students to learn a bit more about a career or a company while they’re still in school. It will also work well as a way for an employer to get students excited about their company or their industry and build a pipeline for the future workforce. WBL experiences might be related to what we call career exposure events, such as job fairs, field trips or informational interviews, as well as career engagement activities like summer jobs, internships and mentorships. The level of commitment for an employer varies. Our job will be to help employers figure out what’s best for them and get them connected to students that have the raw talents they’re looking for so they can start building a relationship with those students. In some cases, a student might even get school credit for this. If we do this right, everyone wins—the student gets invaluable experiences to help them plan for the future, an employer gets to know students who might be their future employees, and schools are able to help students get real-world experiences and knowledge that will help them in the future!
9. If you could go back in time to Patrick from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
Gosh, that’s a tough question. In some respect, getting to this point has taken a lot of energy and time that the old Patrick maybe didn’t fully appreciate, so it probably was a good thing he didn’t know that! But honestly, if I look back, the advice would probably be to “Go Faster!” In some cases, we did more research and paused on leveraging resources, like funding, as quickly as we should have, especially during COVID, but now we’re full speed ahead. We’ve got a state-wide rollout coming up soon to get ready for.
10. What can we do as a community to help Golden Path Solutions succeed?
First, this community has already been awesome. There are so many people offering such great advice, community, and resources, and we’re truly lucky to be part of it. I think for us it’s just getting the word out about what we do and facilitating us getting our ecosystem engaged—engaged employers, engaged students, engaged schools. A lot of our time is going to be spent making sure everyone knows who we are and what we do, and if the community can foster that it would be great.
John Machacek has been helping local startups with the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation since prior to his position with the GFMEDC. Before joining the team, Machacek was the VP of Finance & Operations at United Way of Cass-Clay and a business banker at U.S. Bank.