The Venture Board
Venture Academy holds open Board Meetings at previously determined times posted below. Typically, we stay true to our regular meeting time and date of the 4th Wednesday of each month, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Meetings are held at Venture Academy, 315 27th Ave. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414. These meetings can (and should!) be attended and observed by the public, in accordance with the Minnesota Open Meeting Law.
Board of Directors
Brian Peterson, Board Chair email Peterson is currently on the consulting team supporting schools and nonprofit organizations at Clifton Larson Allen in Minneapolis. He previously left his position as an IT project manager for UnitedHealth Group to launch a new social entrepreneurship venture. As a University of Minnesota freshman in 2003, Peterson co-founded and for nearly a decade served as co-executive director of Students Today Leaders Forever, now a national service and leadership development agency serving more than 4,000 students annually from 13 states. Under Peterson’s co-leadership, STLF won the Minnesota Social Entrepreneur’s Cup.
Betsy Ohrn, Board Secretary email Ohrn is the Director of the Office of New Schools at Minneapolis Public Schools. She has served as a Program Manager with the Research and Evaluation Department at MPS and as a 4th grade reading teacher at Hiawatha Academies. Ohrn began her education career teaching at YES Prep Gulfton in Houston, part of the nationally renowned middle-high charter network. She was previously a teacher for Hiawatha Leadership Academy in south Minneapolis.
Brad Pogalz, Board Treasurer email
Jeff Robbins email Robbins is an attorney at the Minneapolis firm of Messerli & Kramer and coordinator of the AngelPolleNation network, with an extensive background in entrepreneurship and angel early stage investment in Twin Cities start-up firms.
Jason Davis email Davis is a Vice President at Optum Clinic (UnitedHealth Group) where he is responsible for clinic development, and the oversight of business development activities. Jason is a strategic business leader with more than 15 years of leadership experience across several industries, including retail, financial services, healthcare, and functional expertise in real estate, strategy, finance and operations. Jason has held leadership roles at Target Corporation, Woodside Group, and Merrill Lynch. In addition to Venture Academy, Jason currently serves on the board of the Project for Pride in Living. Jason previously served on the board of Main Street School of the Performing Arts in Hopkins, MN, as Treasurer, from 2009 through June of 2015. Jason graduated cum laude from Harvard College with a degree in Economics, and holds a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School.
Rajiv Tandon email Dr. Rajiv Tandon is Founder and Executive Director of The Institute for Innovators and Entrepreneurs. Rajiv is the author of “Planting Seeds” opinion column in Twin City Business magazine. He is a serial entrepreneur and an educator now combining his passion for entrepreneurship and education to develop more robust entrepreneurial enterprises in Minnesota. He was listed by Twin City Business Magazine as one of the “200 Minnesotans You Should Know” for his focus on “EduTech”.
Dr. Tandon holds a Mechanical Engineering degree, with honors, from the Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, a M.S. in Operations Research, M.B.A. and Ph. D. in Entrepreneurship; all from the University of Minnesota.
Troy Strand email Troy Strand is an educator and entrepreneur in the Twin Cities. A Venture Academy teacher for two years, Strand now works as an Innovation Coach in White Bear Lake Area Schools and consults with a variety of districts surrounding STEAM and makerspace education. Strand taught instrumental and classroom music in a variety of charter schools throughout the Twin Cities and brings with him an enthusiasm for connecting academic and vocational work rooted in individual student passions.
Charles (CJ) Ellsworth email Originally from New Jersey, CJ received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University with a double major in Economics and Political Science. CJ began his education career as a Teach For America corps member in Philadelphia. There, CJ taught AP Calculus at a charter school before uprooting his life and career to help found Venture Academy High School.Beth Hawkins
Beth Hawkins email Beth Hawkins is the parent of an 11th-grade Trailblazer who is in her fourth year at Venture Academy. A journalist, she is the national correspondent for The 74 Million, an education-focused news site where she writes about education innovations and policy. She first wrote about Venture Academy at the end of the school’s first year and kept inventing excuses to visit. Beth’s experience as a parent has made her a passionate disability rights advocate. She also serves on the boards of ARC Minnesota and Cultural Jambalaya, a nonprofit that produces free classroom resources for global education.
Andrew Lawton email After working in Seattle, WA as a graphic designer Lawton returned to the Midwest. Graduating Summa Cum Laud from Minnesota State University, Mankato he began his teaching career at a project-based learning charter school. Lawton’s 18 years as an art educator has been almost entirely at charter schools. Recently Lawton obtained a Master’s of Science in Educational Leadership with a focus on Arts in Education and Project-Based Learning. Lawton brings a passion for student-centered learning and entrepreneurial thinking.
Jace Carlson email
Founding Board Members Emeriti
Verne Johnson, Co-Founder
In 1952, Johnson became the youngest elected state representative (representing the city of Minneapolis) in the Legislature, beginning a distinguished career that included long stints as executive director of the Citizens League (1958-67) and as vice-president for planning at General Mills (1967-82). An early supporter and volunteer for the Black Alliance for Education Options (BAEO), Twin Cities Rise and Youth Frontiers, Johnson was the founding chair of the Civic Caucus, a nonpartisan Minnesota policy discussion and innovation group. Verne Johnson died on November 2, 2012.
Peterson (Chair), Ohrn, Pogalz
Human Resources Committee
Pogalz (Chair), Robbins
Davis (Chair), Peterson
Robbins (Chair), Peterson