Connecting Edupreneurs

On Thursday I met with an amazing group of aspiring education entrepreneurs who are the most recent members to join the FounderDating network. Over the summer FounderDating, in partnership with Teach For America and with support from New Schools Venture Fund, launched their first vertical-specific initiative for people interested in solving problems related to teaching, learning and education in general. I was happy to be a part of the team that brought these individuals together and Thursday night’s kick-off event was full of some great conversations and early relationship building.  It was really exciting to see how many teachers applied (which was partly due to partnering with TFA) but also illustrates how educators are playing more active roles in shaping tools and solutions they’d like to see in their schools.

I believe that efforts like these that bring together high-quality individuals from diverse backgrounds is what is going to lead to truly innovative solutions that we are all hopeful for in the education technology space and I’m glad I was able to support building this network.

Is there Really A Movement?

Howard Fuller was absolutely amazing as the keynote speaker at the New Schools Venture Fund Summit this past Wed, appropriately kicking off the event asking everyone to think about why they are here, doing this work, and what role they can and will play. He passionately expressed the sense of urgency we need to have in solving the challenges of our current education system and echoed a similar message from Don Shalvey, that I wrote in a previous post, that there is room for everyone to play a meaningful role in improving education outcomes for all students.

Many of his comments were twitter-worthy (and the audience did an impressive job keeping the tweet stream (#nsvfsummit) flowing all day) but this was by far my favorite.

“We think we are all awesome. We are not all awesome. Most of us are regular people. We have to create systems where regular people can have awesome results.”

For me, this captured the essence of the entire event. NSVF has been supporting some of the top edupreneurs since 1998, who span from school builders to tool builders and everything in between, who are working to create ways in which regular citizens can make a real impact on teaching and learning.

The title of this post borrows from that of the opening session itself, questioning whether the current education reform movement is moving fast enough. I wonder if outside our bubble of edtech trends and the charter reform, is there enough community engagement and energy to even classify this as a movement? I would love to see what happened to the environmental movement take shape in the education world, where regular citizens not only have awareness of the problem but have actionable ways in which they can make a difference. Everyone recycles and that’s awesome. Can we get everyone to volunteer at their local school or contribute to educating all our children in other every-day ways?

Fuller simply states that in order to build a movement, we must engage people on a grassroots level. I whole-heartedly agree, which is why I’ve been organizing a growing community of educators who are interested in helping build the edtech movement through my Teacher Tech Talk events. (The next one is coming up on Wed, May 30th.)

The rest of the day was equally amazing, full of great speakers and opportunities to connect with fellow edupreneurs, old and new. It would be impossible to capture everything here, so keeping with their efforts to foster this community, NSVF will post all the sessions online. (A few of the sessions are already live on NBC News Education Nation.)

If you only have time to watch one session, skip straight to the closing conversation between Rahm Emanuel and Laurene Powell Jobs. Clearly a seasoned politician, he had an established message to convey, however, his passion for fixing the broken education system in Chicago was pouring off the stage.

“We’re not for reform, we’re for results. As reformers, we’re for education excellence, not educational reform. I think we confuse the means with the ends.”

It was such a powerful way to close the day and bring the conversation back to the focus of all our efforts, and events like the summit. The focus should not be reforming “the system,” or unions, or teaching training programs, etc… But rather engaging regular citizens in building a grassroots movement that optimizes for educational excellence for all students. If we could do that, then maybe we are all awesome.

NSVF- Planting the seed

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the launch event for New Schools Venture Fund SeedFund, the most recent endeavor of dynamic duo Wayee Chu and Jennifer Carolan, who also spearheaded the EdTech Lab at Stanford this time last year. With the team at NSVF, these two have spent years encouraging and investing in entrepreneurs passionate about building tools and systems to help all kids have access to a high quality public education. Jennifer’s most recent blog post shares the thought process behind creating this seed stage funding opportunity and how supporting these entrepreneurs early on has the real potential to improve the struggling K-12 education system. The event attracted an impressive audience of VCs, angels, entrepreneurs and members of the community that have devoted their lives to improving education outcomes for all kids.  The highlight for me was Jennifer and Alan Louie, from Imagine K-12, kicking off the event with some compelling reasons why the timing is right to truly change education now. The stars have aligned in the following ways:

  • Technology: Current infrastructure (ie. AWS, Rackspace) makes it easier than ever to build a startup and pc/tablet penetration is increasing ( there is a 3:1 ratio of kids to computers (on avg))
  • Talent: 40% of teachers are under 30 years old and feel very comfortable using technology in the classroom
  • Common Core is laying the framework to consolidate learning goals/standards across the country (adopted by 43 states already)
  • Budget constraints: strapped districts, now more than ever, are looking for tools/systems to help them do more with less

I think another big point related to technology that was not mentioned is the availability and ability to use data in a meaningful and actionable way to drive personalized, self-paced learning to meet kids where they are and help each of them succeed on their own timeline.

Overall, I love the optimism and forward-looking tone of the evening, especially when it’s so easy to get dragged down by the history of education reform and all the strategies that have been unsuccessful in the past. The night continued with presentations from the first three companies in the SeedFund; Goalbook, Engrade and LearnZillion.

Efforts like these, that are seeking to improve education outcomes for kids and communities that need it the most, are what fuel my own passion for this work. They push us all to rethink the role of schools, what teaching and learning can and should look like in a student-centered world. We can get there, together, and NSVF is helping to plant those seeds.

Explorers need a good map!

I have been looking for a map of the edtech world for a while now and cannot wait to see what is unveiled later today. Stay tuned for thoughts on that and more insights from the Philanthropy Roundtable Education Conference.

(Courtesy of EdSurge)

MAPPING THE WORLD: Every pioneer needs a map and now the NewSchools Venture Fund has started to make one of the edtech world. With support from theLaura and John Arnold Foundation, and contributions from edsurgent dudesMichael B. Horn and Anthony Kim, NSVF’s Ted Mitchell and Kristina Ransick have pulled together a marvelous connect-the-dots portrait of the industry, cataloguing companies into FOUR high level groups (such as curricula and instructional systems) and then into more specific areas (under curricula: tutoring, test prep, digital textbooks, etc). The project aims to give entrepreneurs and funders (nonprofit and for profit) a clearer view of the industry. The market map OF 230 COMPANIES will be unveiled publically late Wednesday afternoon at a meeting of philanthropists in San Francisco. By the end of today (Wednesday), you should be able to click here and see if your company has landed a spot on the atlas. The challenge, of course, is keeping it current. Other catalogues of the edtech world, such as StartL’s Dealbook,  have languished. No word yet on how this one will be maintained.

New Schools Venture Fund Celebrates Edupreneurs

Today, NewSchools launched a new video series celebrating education entrepreneurs. The kicked the series off with a video of entrepreneurs talking about the qualities that make the entrepreneur unique. The second video in the series is an interview with Sal Khan of KhanAcademy.org. They are planning to launch a new video each week and I am really looking forward to this series and the exposure it will provide to creative thinkers in this space. I think Sal Khan captured the essence of Edupreneurs well describing them as “small teams of slightly crazy people trying to do something disruptive.” Stay tuned!

Two new videos added on 9.6.11 – Alexandra Bernadotte, founder of Beyond 12, and Scott Given, founder of Unlocking Potential Schools.