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ASU team finalists in national competition for up to $1M to help middle-class Arizonans

June 11, 2020

Today, Arizona State University announced that Enfuego Technologies was selected to represent the university in the final round of the Alliance for the American Dream competition, where they will seek up to a $1 million investment to accelerate their work. The team, which was selected for its approach to increasing economic prosperity for middle-class Arizonans, will outline its proposal this fall to the Schmidt Futures team.

Founded by Schmidt Futures, the Alliance for the American Dream challenges four universities — Arizona State University, Ohio State University, University of Utah, and University of Wisconsin-Madison — and their surrounding communities to identify innovative strategies to increase the incomes of 10,000 local middle class households by 10% in the next two years.

“With its ambitious goal, scale, and scope, the alliance is inherently an optimistic endeavor,” said Andrew Nelson, who oversees the university’s participation as program manager in ASU’s Office of Applied Innovation. “Every idea proposed through the alliance is designed to inspire a more inclusive and socially just economy.” 

The finalist team from ASU, Enfuego, helps job seekers identify better opportunities for their skill sets, providing critical insights and application feedback before they apply for a position that will increase their income. Enfuego provides a patent-pending dynamic content resume feature that blends elements of artificial intelligence and natural language processing to automatically customize a job seeker’s resume to match a job description. The technology, which was developed at ASU, understands the skills required for a job, conducts a skills gap analysis, determines an applicant’s competitiveness for the position, and tailors their resume for each job to which they apply. The platform also connects users to educational opportunities in their communities to acquire new skills necessary to qualify for better positions.

“Everyone deserves a job that draws on the best of their strengths,” said Luke Tate, managing director of ASU’s Office of Applied Innovation. “This initiative is designed to enable all Arizonans to work where they can thrive.”

“At Enfuego, we believe that economic prosperity exists at the intersection of meaningful employment, job satisfaction, and livable wages,” said Paul Hughes, founder and CEO of Enfuego Technologies. “We can help any jobseeker find employment that meets those criteria,” he added.

Enfuego has already demonstrated its performance in helping users secure good jobs. During a six-month, 1,500-user pilot study conducted with the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), Enfuego helped 57% more job seekers find employment than the state’s existing systems. They also found that Enfuego users were 20% less likely to return for unemployment benefits, suggesting an improved “fit” for the position. If adopted statewide, Enfuego projects that it could save Arizona taxpayers $26 million per year.

While the platform is available to everyone, Enfuego will initially target several populations in key moments of professional transition. They will work with Arizonans who are unemployed and underemployed, transitioning out of the military, recent graduates entering the labor force, and those who may need assistance to effectively market their skills and abilities in English.

“What most jobseekers don’t know is that while humans write resumes, robots read them,” said Hughes. “Technically called applicant tracking systems, these programs are designed to filter candidates based on the alignment of their skills and experience to the job posting, meaning that even a minor omission from one’s resume may disqualify an otherwise great applicant. We’re trying to change that,” he added. “Enfuego takes the guesswork out of resume writing.”

The alliance’s goal of promoting shared prosperity is timely as the country deals with the crippling economic fallout of COVID-19. “Arizona families were already being squeezed on all sides before this pandemic began,” said Nelson. “The ideas emerging from the alliance are financial lifelines that are coming at a time when they are even more desperately needed.”

Two other teams also represented ASU in the competition: me3, an ASU web- and mobile application that connects adult learners with short-term, valuable educational opportunities and credentials, and Care4Me, a digital platform conceived by the city of Tempe that connects families with customized childcare solutions. These teams will continue to advance their solutions with previously awarded seed funding. 

Other teams that advanced to the final round include a team from Ohio State University that provides digital legal support for those with criminal records, a team from University of Utah working on mental health interventions for students and employees, and two teams from University of Wisconsin-Madison that provide a health care coordination platform and a mobile platform that helps users assess career opportunities.

Teams were selected by a cross-sector screening panel, which included academics, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, policymakers and nonprofit leaders. The panel evaluated the teams using a number of selection criteria, including the likelihood of achieving the goal, benefit to diverse communities, depth of research and being partner focused, among others. 

This is the second competition cycle for the alliance. In the inaugural cycle (2018-19), an ASU-led team, Project Benjamin, shared first place and received a $1 million investment to develop an AI-powered chatbot, Benji, to support FAFSA completion efforts in 67 local high schools.

About Schmidt Futures

The Alliance for the American Dream is supported by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt that finds exceptional people and helps them do more for others together. Schmidt Futures knits talent into networks, bets on the most promising ideas through diverse forms of competition and support, and equips people to scale through partners and modern tools. 

ASU is a founding member of the alliance along with The Ohio State University, University of Utah and University of Wisconsin-Madison.