Co-Founder, Executive Director, WTIA Workforce Institute & Apprenti
Jennifer is the co-founder and Executive Director of Apprenti, guiding and driving the organization’s rapid growth from inception to now having placed more than 2000 apprentices among dozens of employers across the country. She also serves on the Tech Councils of North America (TECNA) workforce board and as an Adjunct Professor in Graduate Studies at Seattle University. Previously, she successfully ran a $260 million operation for AIG Agency Auto Insurance, developed web-based policy management systems, and ran national branding initiatives. Prior to AIG, she managed U.S. sports and event marketing for Progressive Insurance. Jennifer completed her BA in technical journalism with a concentration in public relations and a minor in sociology, and she has an MBA from Ohio University. Jennifer lives and works in Federal Way, WA.
Nirav S. Desai is an entrepreneur, investor, and strategist who integrates technologies to enable the next wave of computing. Over the course of his career, Mr. Desai has consulted with clients in the technology, health, manufacturing/logistics, and government sectors – helping a major consulting firm build a 100+ person immersive technology (virtual reality, augmented reality, etc.) practice. He brings this experience to Moonbeam as Co-Founder and CEO. Moonbeam is a startup focused reducing barriers to corporate innovation through market intelligence, innovation programming, and strategic sourcing. They work with corporate innovation labs, economic development organizations, and venture funds to leverage data science to access to global innovation economies. Additionally, he advises startups and consults with corporate clients working with innovation labs, government research centers, universities, and incubators and accelerators, to identify and embrace edge technologies.
He keeps on the cutting edge of enterprise technology through contributions to civil society. He mentors startups through TechStars Seattle, the TechStars/Amazon Alexa startup accelerators, and the University of Washington’s CoMotion Labs. He serves as an Innovation Co-Chair for the Pacific Northwest Economic Region with a focus on helping states, provinces, and municipalities embrace disruption and position for the future economy. Additionally, he is a board member for the Sports Innovation Lab’s Tactical Athlete Leadership Board.
Mr. Desai maintains connection with academia serving the University of Washington as an Affiliate Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and as a Civic Council member for the Jackson School of International Studies. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Computer Science and a B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy.
Senior Researcher, Workforce Training & Education Coordinating Board
Christopher has over 15 years of professional experience in government and academia. He is a recipient of the Congressional Award for his national service as a former AmeriCorps and Peace Corps Thailand volunteer. Christopher also holds a Bachelor of Economics from the Metropolitan State University of Denver and a Master of Public Policy specialized in advanced policy and economic analysis from Columbia University in New York City. He has numerous publications in the Harvard Business Review, Asian Management Insights, the Economist Intelligence Unit, and the Financial Times from his work as a researcher at Singapore Management University. His research has won multiple awards through the Global Case Centre in the categories of Knowledge, Information, and Communications System Management, Urban Transition Challenges, and Inclusive Business Models.
Christopher has served the State of Washington for six years as an expert in qualitative and quantitative research methods and empirical design, with an emphasis on program and policy evaluation. He was the Principal Researcher on the 2021 Net Impact and Cost-Benefit Evaluation of Washington State’s Workforce Development Programs. He is currently a Senior Researcher for the Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board.
Professor of Computer Science and Faculty Senate Chair, Shoreline Community College
Dr. Crystal Hess is a passionate educator and leader who intentionally works to uphold a social justice leadership framework in her personal and professional practice. She is a committed life-long learner with 20+ years of teaching and leadership experience spanning multiple contexts, including both community and educational programs. She believes justice, community-centered collaboration, innovation, and learning should be pillars of organizational development.
Crystal holds a Doctorate in Educational and Organizational Leadership with a focus on Community Advocacy and Social Justice, a Masters in Information Systems Management, and a Bachelors in Computer Science. Crystal has been a National Board Certified Teacher since 2010 and earned her Certified Diversity Executive credentials in 2023.
CEO, tyfone, Inc.
Siva Narendra is CEO of tyfone, Inc., a digital banking technology company in Portland, Oregon, he co-founded in 2004. Siva has served as its CEO since 2011. Siva is an inventor with more than 100 patents. Inventions he patented have led to the launch of Toz, a digital security company and iCashe, a digital payment fintech. Siva co-founded ORDSN, a non-profit platform to bring digital communications capabilities to marginalized populations. In addition to serving on the boards of tyfone and iCashe he co-founded, Siva was a board member at OnPoint Community Credit Union from 2017 to 2020 and is an independent board member at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Siva was a Senior Staff Scientist at Intel’s Corporate Technology Group where his contributions led to the issuance of 75 patents. Siva is a published author and has more than 60 peer-reviewed papers with an h-index of 65. Siva holds a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Co-founder and Managing Principal at rGen Inc
With a career spanning over four decades in the technology industry, Ray Rasmussen brings an extraordinary depth of knowledge, vast experience, and a proven track record of successful leadership roles. Ray began his journey in technology as an engineer at IBM at the dawn of the personal computer era. He quickly developed an infatuation with the revolutionary potential of this technology. This fascination fueled a lifelong passion for technological advancement, which has been the driving force behind his impressive career trajectory.
Ray’s experience, ranging from leading multi-billion-dollar mergers at Deloitte to developing business application strategies at Microsoft, has granted him a unique perspective on the evolving landscape of technology. His ability to strategize and implement effective business solutions has been demonstrated repeatedly, contributing significantly to the advancement of the firms he has been associated with.
Today, Ray is the co-founder and managing principal of rGen Consulting, a management consulting firm specializing in AI business transformation. Under his leadership, rGen Consulting has become an ideal partner for companies seeking rapid growth and increased revenues. Through comprehensive services encompassing strategic planning, organizational design, process automation, and ongoing operations, Ray and his team enable clients to navigate the complexities of AI adoption and realize their vision for success.
While AI will indeed transform businesses, they must be ready to do so ethically. Ray recognizes the importance of ethical considerations in AI adoption and advocates for responsible AI practice. He guides organizations to demonstrate accountability towards their employees, prioritize data privacy and security, and proactively mitigate potential risks associated with AI implementations.
Ray understands that AI is not just a buzzword but a transformative technology with immense business potential. He shares his passion for understanding AI and its transformation through his commitment to thought leadership and knowledge sharing. Ray actively contributes to the industry by publishing articles, white papers, and research findings that explore the latest trends and best practices in AI business transformation.
His extensive experience and profound knowledge make him a valuable voice in shaping the discourse around AI and technology. Ray’s ability to articulate complex concepts, foresee industry trends, and provide strategic guidance will enrich the dialogue surrounding AI and offer valuable insights to readers and the wider technology community.
Senior Director, Workforce Solutions
As Merit’s Senior Director for Workforce Solutions, Laura Ward coordinates Verified Identity implementations with state agencies and complex workforce ecosystems across the country. Guided by her policy and regulatory expertise, partners rebuild depleted labor pools – connecting skilled workers to training programs and quality, in-demand jobs.
Laura draws on her previous experience as Senior Vice President of Talent Development for the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, where she helped employers develop robust talent pipelines, eliminating barriers to education and employment.
Supported by investments from the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and the National Skills Coalition, Laura led regional and statewide postsecondary completion, workforce development, and policy initiatives.
Laura holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management and a Master of Science in Counseling from Missouri State University
Site Lead, Creative Destruction Lab-Seattle
Chief Impact & Policy Officer, Washington STEM