Riley Jones, Sector: You Can’t Have "Social Entrepreneurship" Without "Entrepreneurship"

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This blog post was written by student author Ellie Gershenwald (Steinhardt '22) based on an interview with February 2022 Founder of the Month, Riley Jones (Law ‘20), co-founder of Sector.

Sector is a job application tracker that walks you through data-driven steps that will double your chance of getting hired.

When asked for the most common feedback he gives to new social entrepreneurs, Riley Jones replied with this important message: "You can’t have the 'social' part without the 'entrepreneurship.' If you don’t build something that’s sustainable, you can’t create something that ultimately does good and makes an impact." He has lived this philosophy during his own startup journey, as well as by participating fully in the NYU entrepreneurial community.

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Riley was exposed to issues surrounding education and employment from an early age. His grandmother was a career technical educator and his grandfather was a teacher, providing him with a lens into the world he navigates today. Initially, he thought he would be able to affect change through policy, but after coming to New York for college he learned about startups and the potential they offer in providing faster and more direct solutions. In his sophomore year, he met Amina Yamusah and they went on to co-found Bloc (now Sector). In Bloc’s early stages, they held conferences to connect students of color with opportunities. But, with limitations on how many people they could serve, Riley and Amina soon realized that they needed a new way to reach a larger audience. Bloc’s second iteration came after their NYU Law Venture Fund contacts introduced them to the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute's coaching and programs. This new iteration sought to use software that would not only help connect people to jobs, but would also more comprehensively provide support for all steps of the job search process – including preparing, applying, interviewing, and succeeding in a job. 

In 2019, Riley became the first NYU Law student to participate in the NYU Summer Launchpad. He considers his participation in the 9-week accelerator to have been "game changing". Despite having already been an entrepreneur for a few years, he recalls feeling like the program was his first experience being "taken seriously from the start" as a founder. He remembers feeling that he had the space to be vulnerable about the help he needed. The Launchpad also provided a close network of founders, trained him to ask himself hard questions, and built up his entrepreneurial instincts.

Then, winning the NYU $300K Challenge in 2020 (now the NYU Entrepreneurs Challenge) provided both exposure and credibility, which gave his venture a major boost. As we move into 2022, Bloc is now taking on a new identity under the name Sector in an attempt to refocus on the job search objectives rather than the software they use to achieve them. With continued attention to upskilling, Riley hopes to provide a resource for young adults with little to no work experience or who may be looking to change careers. Sector's goal is to help these individuals efficiently, through tools like the resume builder, job tracker, and integrations with other software. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation, people have come to realize that virtual services like the ones Sector is providing are both necessary and useful. Riley has found that, in thinking about where to find job seekers, the traditional method of going where students tend to congregate in person is no longer the best way – they are largely online now.  

To share what Riley has learned during his entrepreneurial journey so far, he has joined the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute as a Founder in Residence. He has been able to help fellow NYU founders across a broad range of subjects, including funding, startup partnerships, and social entrepreneurship. In reflecting on his entrepreneurial path, he says he didn't expect how fun it would be when he first started. Even though it’s stressful, "there’s a high level of fulfillment in waking up and working on something you’re creating, even when things don’t always go as planned".

And Riley has the satisfaction of knowing that his work is indeed making a difference. When asked about what has been most rewarding about his journey as a founder, he didn’t talk about funding or achieving certain metrics, but rather recalled the satisfaction of being recognized by people who attended Bloc’s early conferences, and being told how the experience changed their lives. Even as the company transitions to its new name and brand, the spirit of what Bloc was when it first started is still there. The goal is still to make a real difference in career opportunities for young adults in historically marginalized communities.

With this mission in mind, and as a Black founder himself, Riley shared what Black History Month means to him as an entrepreneur: "It means not just celebrating past achievements and overcoming past hurdles, but also being thoughtful about what the future looks like." He made an important point that while members of the Black community might not specifically call it innovation or entrepreneurship, by the very nature of what it has taken to be successful in a country that has not always been hospitable, there has always been a level of creativity and ingenuity that Black people have had to employ. His advice to aspiring young entrepreneurs from marginalized communities is that they enjoy the experience for what it is and recognize that the worst thing that could happen is learning something they didn’t know before. As one last piece of advice, he added: "short term failure is not a predictor of long term failure, so take that chance!"