Meet Josuel Plasencia and Yulkendy Valdez, Co-Founders and Managing Directors of Project 99, a Boston-based startup that helps leading organizations engage and retain diverse talent
GH: WHAT IS Project 99?
JP&YV: Project 99 helps leading organizations engage and retain diverse talent through leadership programs tailored to the millennial workforce. Our programs put young professionals from all backgrounds at the forefront of cultural change at their organizations by enabling them to become inclusive leaders – leaders who infuse the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion into everything they do and hence drive innovation and business results. The long term vision of Project 99 is to advocate for 30% racially and ethnically diverse senior leadership across the private sector. Right now, the country is 30% Black and Latino, but only 3% of people from these backgrounds are represented in senior leadership positions. Project 99 envisions a workforce where this leadership gap no longer exists – we call this 30by2030.
GH: WHAT WAS YOUR EUREKA MOMENT: HOW DID Project 99 GET STARTED?
JP&YV: We met as first-year students at Babson College. Our first conversation was 3 hours long. We had a lot in common, we were first-gen students of color who wanted to see more representation of our communities in leadership positions.
GH: HOW DID YOU BUILD/ ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT BUILDING YOUR TEAM?
JP&YV: Nothing great is ever done alone. In society, individuals are celebrated but it is always a team behind the best ideas and successes. We were lucky that from day one, we were a team.
GH: WHAT IS YOUR COMPANY PHILOSOPHY DRIVING YOUR COMPANY CULTURE?
JP&YV: Our work is focused on putting millennials at the forefront of cultural change of their organizations, by organizing accelerators at companies, were millennials along their senior executives come up with the ideas that will transform workplace culture. This level of experimentation and commitment to culture, we strive for at Project 99 everyday.
GH: WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR FIRST CUSTOMERS?
JP&YV: We learned that millennials are really craving spaces of ideation and design thinking. We also learned that something magical happens when you put both millennials and executives in the same room, and transform the standard conversation into a lab of ideas and exploration.
GH: WHAT HAS THE BOSTON ECOSYSTEM PROVIDED YOU?
JP&YV:The Boston ecosystem has been tremendous for us. It has been instrumental in the development of our Board of Advisory and our participation in numerous accelerator and leadership experiences like the Smarter In the City Program, Color Magazine Events and the Babson Summer Venture Program.
GH: WHAT’S THE BEST/WORST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE GIVEN ALONG THE WAY?
JP&YV: The best advice has been to surround yourself with leaders in your industry during your journey. In other words, learn from the ones that do it best. The worst advice is any that is not tangible and is any advice, that is given just for the sake of it.
GH: WHAT WAS THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED TO YOU LAST YEAR?
JP&YV: The best thing has been our client work success with SAP, MICDS, Humano, the Manhattan Neighborhood Network and Babson College.
GH: WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR Project 99?
JP&YV: We are excited to expand our work within the Boston community and all over the United States as we launch the 99 Accelerator at a larger scale.