48 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
A pair of Georgia Tech graduates are working on a neurodiverse platform that can help
people with cognitive disabilities find jobs, a process they believe eventually could help
everyone involved in employment recruiting.
Conner Reinhardt, an IISE member, recently earned his degree from Techs H. Milton
Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Jhillika Kumar earned hers in com-
putational media. They met at the 2018 TEDx GeorgiaTechSalon conference where Ku-
mar gave a presentation on creating opportunities for people on the autism spectrum. Her
topic was based on personal experience: Her older brother, Vikram, is autistic and nonver-
bal, but found an outlet to express himself when his parents gave him a tablet computer.
“You know what’s ironic is that I’ve learned most of my lessons from a boy who has
never spoken a word in his life, ever,” she told the TEDx audience. “And if there is any-
thing at all that I would like to do in this lifetime, I would like to take the lessons that boy
has taught me and show to you how much he has to offer this world.
With Kumar providing the vision and Reinhardt applying his industrial engineering and
business skills, they founded a campus startup called AxisAbility in 2019 aimed at find-
ing ways to help people on the autism spectrum. From there, they designed an app called
Mentra to help individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities improve their
employment opportunities and skills through mentorship and connections with potential
employers. They received guidance by working with members of the Autistic Self-Advo-
cacy Atlanta (ASAA) organization, which helped beta-test Mentra.
With more than 80% of autistic U.S. adults unemployed or underemployed in an era
of low joblessness, they believe their efforts can fill a vital need. Research by Accenture
shows that increasing their employment rate just 1% could boost the nations gross domestic
product by $25 billion.
“Were creating a broader vision that every autistic individual has the opportunity to
nd useful employment,” Kumar told ISE. “The way the brains of people with autism
work, they think outside the box in unconventional ways. When employers notice that, it
is such a huge asset for the workforce to see individuals as valuable.
“We believe this is the missing link that has not existed yet in hiring autistic people,
Reinhardt said.
The Mentra app was designed to connect those on the autism spectrum with mentors to
guide them through the processes and skills needed when applying for jobs. The next step
would allow users to select their key job preferences and abilities, then match them with
employers’ needs.
“Where the mentorship comes in is in helping to connect them to resources and allow
them to improve in areas they’re weak, which they then are able to showcase to employ-
ers to show they have progressed and gotten better,” Reinhardt said. “It shows a sense of
dedication and gives candidates a way to improve themselves and their career marketability
and skills instead of spending all their energy applying for jobs.
He said that though federal and state governments provide vocational rehabilitation to
help those with cognitive disabilities prepare for work as they leave high school, those who
Georgia Tech duo creates app
to link people with autism to jobs
Solutions in practice by Keith Albertson
case study
March 2020 | ISE Magazine 49
are age 21 and older receive little support seeking jobs.
The issue and bottleneck now is matching vocational
rehab centers to corporations themselves,” Reinhardt said.
“We want to create a larger ecosystem that requires more
than just matching but building a full work environment.
The app seeks to divide applicants’ job options into four
categories of employment: People work, creative work, nu-
merical work and hands-on work. People jobs include cus-
tomer service, administrative assistants and jobs working
with animals. Creative jobs focus on marketing, designing
and writing, even for those on the spectrum with limited
social abilities. Numerical jobs include data analysis and soft-
ware work. Hands-on jobs include inventory, cleaning and
organizing, driving or working outdoors.
“We can bucket the jobs from data scientist all the way
down to cashier,” he said. “All jobs are viable options when
youre dealing with a large, diverse group of people. They
can engage in what they are most interested in, select their
top four interests and (the app) directs how we match them
to roles.
As of mid-January, Reinhardt and Kumar said 22 com-
panies had expressed interest in working with Mentra and
30 more were looking to join. The next steps are to gather
as much data as possible – “As IEs understand, you need un-
biased data,” Reinhardt said – continue to test the app and
apply for federal grants and private funding.
Since graduating, both Reinhardt and Kumar accepted
positions with Bank of America in Charlotte, North Caro-
lina, where they look to apply their research to help make
bank technology more accessible to people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, their work on Mentra continues with a research
team that includes Rishma Mendhakar, Sebastien La Duca
and Nandita Gupta.
Kumars efforts earned her the 2019 Student of Vision
Abie Award recognizing the use of technological innovation
to solve problems; it is given by the AnitaB.Org, a social
enterprise supporting women in technical fields. Her work
also persuaded her family to move from their home in Dubai,
United Arab Emirates, to the United States to give Vikram
more access to technology-based services.
Eventually, the partners believe the idea of matching job
skills to employers could apply to people of all abilities look-
ing to hire or be hired.
“We’re focusing on diverse hiring, starting with under-
served communities and those with other disabilities,” Ku-
mar said. “Then we can scale to everyone to ideally replace
the standard processes of job-seeking. It can be more inclu-
sive and a lot more people-centered rather than employer-
“We can put an emphasis on personal growth more than
navigating the recruiting process,” Reinhardt said. “Imagine
a world where the recruiting process matches jobs that are
good for you, taking into account all aspects of your person-
ality, leaving you time and space to grow in ways you want
to grow instead of spending so much energy in the recruiting
Keith Albertson is managing editor of ISE magazine.
Georgia Tech graduates Conner Reinhardt (left) and Jhillika
Kumar have developed an app designed to help people on the
autism spectrum find employment mentors and connect with job
opportunities that best fit their skills and preferences.
‘We’re creating a broader vision that every
autistic individual has the opportunity to find
useful employment. The way the brains of people
with autism work, they think outside the box in
unconventional ways. When employers notice
that, it is such a huge asset for the workforce
to see individuals as valuable.
– Jhillika Kumar
If you’ve been involved in a project that put solutions to the test in a real-
world environment, it could be a potential Case Study article. Send your
idea to Managing Editor Keith Albertson at kalbertson@iise.org and we’ll
give it consideration.
Do you have a Case Study to share?
Photo courtesy of Lance Davies | Georgia Tech
More about Mentra
To learn more about Mentra, visit the website, www.mentra.me.
You can watch Jhillika Kumar’s TEDx GeorgiaTechSalon
presentation, “Accessibility at the Forefront of Design,” at