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 3rd 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
Jace Carlson email
Katia Colon-Holmers email
Jason Davis email Davis is a Vice President at Optum (UnitedHealth Group), focused on delivering in-home health assessments for seniors. 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.
Prior to joining Optum, Jason held a number of leadership positions in property development at Target Corporation. In his career, Jason has been a member of the divisional leadership team of Woodside Group, a large privately held developer and residential builder, and has also served as an Assistant Vice President in Corporate Strategy group at Merrill Lynch (now Bank of America). Prior to Merrill Lynch, Jason worked at First Manhattan Consulting Group, a strategic management consultancy, serving Fortune 50 clients in the financial services industry.
Jason currently serves on the board of the Project for Pride in Living, an organization that works with lower-income individuals and families to achieve greater self-sufficiency through affordable housing and career readiness. He also currently serves on the board of Venture Academy, an innovative Minneapolis charter school focused on building entrepreneurs. Jason previously served on the board of PiM Arts High School (formerly Main Street School of the Performing Arts) as Treasurer, from 2009 through June of 2015.
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 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.
Greg Pavett email I believe providing the tools to our youth, specifically around the art of solving a problem with a new product, or service, has a powerful impact for the Trailblazer, their families and our community. The demographics of the Trailblazer is especially important, as we know diversity is proven to deliver better results.
I hope the Board, Academy, and Trailblazers can leverage my experience in both the corporate setting, as well as having started and successfully run my own business over the past decade to achieve its collective mission.
Transparency, humility, perseverance, and courageous are words that define me. I have demonstrated expertise in identifying, developing, and launching disruptive innovations that create long-term sustainable value.
In my twenty-nine year career, I have worked within a broad range of companies. I have a passion for the early-stage start-up and disrupting categories that no longer are serving a need. Industries include food, confectionary, household products, health and beauty, cough and cold, digestive health, and most recently, as a newcomer to providing innovations to the non-profit sector – a sector that is ripe for disruption and innovation.
I believe there are a number of opportunities to collaborate within the Twin Cities that can support, elevate and enlighten all stakeholders at the Academy. I bring the desire to make the connections so the Academy and stakeholders have access to these resources.
Jeff Robbins email Jeffrey C. Robbins is an attorney with the business law boutique Avisen Legal, P.A. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For 36 years, he has represented entrepreneurs who start and grow technology-based enterprises and angel and venture investors who target those companies. He is a serial entrepreneur himself, having founded two companies in the entertainment ticketing industry. Jeff represents high-growth, high-potential private enterprises and publicly traded companies. In 2011, he founded AngelPolleNation, a networking organization for investors that holds quarterly events in the Twin Cities. He serves as an advisory board member to Gopher Angels, a Minneapolis-based investor network. Jeff is also a judge for the annual statewide Minnesota Cup business plan competition. He is a board member of Venture Academy, a Minneapolis charter school focused on developing entrepreneurial leadership skills for its students, and of the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company, and also serves on the Business Advisory Group for the University of Minnesota’s Office of Technology Commercialization. Jeff was named in 2011 as one of “200 Minnesotans You Should Know” by Twin Cities Business magazine.
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.
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.
Adrienne Vitt email
Overseeing EdAllies’ editorial publications, blog, media relations, social media, marketing, branding, and more, Adrienne works to uplift student and parent voices, ultimately fostering more candid conversations about education in Minnesota. Although her career began in journalism, Adrienne was quickly and continually drawn to education-access work; as result, she joined the founding staff of Breakthrough Saint Paul. Following a temporary return to journalism—as a business and technology reporter and journalism instructor—she found the nexus of her work in communications strategy for education-based nonprofits. After overseeing communications at Interfaith Youth Core and directing online communications strategy for DePaul University in Chicago, she eventually made her way back home to Minnesota, where she worked most recently as the Communications and Marketing Director for The Northside Achievement Zone. Adrienne graduated from the University of Minnesota, with bachelor’s degrees in Journalism, Cultural Studies, and Comparative Literature, and from DePaul University, with a master’s degree in New Media Studies. When she’s not working or spending time with her family, she explores the intersection of community-based storytelling and culinary history.
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.
Board Chair: Beth Hawkins
Vice Chair: Andrew Lawton
Treasurer: CJ Ellsworth
Secretary: Jace Carlson
Human Resources Committee
Ellsworth, Tandon, Carlson, Lawton
Ellsworth (Chair), Robbins