Our History

NewSchools Venture Fund was created in 1998 by social entrepreneur Kim Smith and venture capitalists John Doerr and Brook Byers. Each had witnessed the impact of visionary entrepreneurs to create dramatic change in other sectors, such as technology.

NewSchools’ founders believed that innovative teams of educators, innovators and education entrepreneurs could similarly bring about much-needed change in public education if they had access to both early-stage capital and strategic, hands-on support to start and grow their organizations. NewSchools  Venture Fund was built to enable a new type of capital market that could support the development of entrepreneurial ventures serving all children—especially those in underserved communities— within public education.

In our first 20 years, we invested nearly $345 million in over one thousand education innovators. Among their many accomplishments, they started schools which serve nearly 50,000 students when fully enrolled, and have created education technologies reaching more than 46 million students and teachers worldwide. Throughout our history, we have invested in three key areas: innovative public schools, education technology, and diverse leaders. Although the investment focus in each area has evolved over time to address emerging needs and opportunities, we have remained committed to these three pillars.

Innovative Public Schools and School Redesign

Today, we invest in innovative public schools across the nation, and our current area of focus is innovative district and charter schools—both new schools and existing schools interested in redesign. We support models designed to help students develop a strong academic foundation along with other mindsets, habits and skills they need for success in life.

At our inception in 1998, our work to invest in innovative public schools initially focused on driving accountability and enabling choice for families. We were among the first and largest investors in public charter schools and the first to identify and support multisite charter management organizations, which launch and operate integrated networks of public charter schools. These nonprofit organizations demonstrated that educational quality at scale is possible, while also providing replicable models for how to create and sustain systems of high-performing schools.

In addition, we invested in a variety of charter school support organizations, which provide charter schools with critical infrastructure such as facilities development, administrative services and academic support.

Read more about our current work in the Innovative Public Schools investment area.

Education Technology

NewSchools’ work to support digital learning tools began at our inception in 1998. Today, we invest in education technology that increases the availability and effectiveness of products that deepen and enrich student learning. These tools are developed by companies and nonprofits creating innovative products to help address the most pressing needs identified by teachers and students.

In our first 17 years we invested in more than 50 companies and nonprofits building engaging, research-backed tools, applications, content and services to improve education opportunities for PreK-12 students. This area of investment increased from 2012-2015 with our Seed Fund and co.lab, our partnership with Zynga.org. We helped to catalyze the market for ed tech and channel investment toward products that meet the needs of students in underserved communities.

The $10 million Seed Fund served as a catalyst, inspiring and enabling traditional and non-traditional tech investors to provide capital to the fast-growing ed tech market. The startups funded by our Seed Fund now serve more than 60 million students and teachers. Following the conclusion of the Seed Fund, NewSchools launched NewSchools Capital, LLC.

We incubated co.lab in partnership with Zynga.org. Co.lab is an accelerator that works with startups leveraging the power of digital games to build transformative educational technologies for PreK-12 students and teachers. Following the two-year incubation period and the first three cohorts, Zynga.org took over sole management responsibility for co.lab. For more information please visit www.playcolab.com.

Read more about our Ed Tech investment area.

Diverse Leaders

From the very beginning, talent development has been a critical area of investment and management assistance at NewSchools. The recruitment, training and development of effective leaders and teachers  is essential for reimagining education. Through a handful of initial exploratory investments in organizations focused on preparing and supporting Black and Latino leaders, we learned about the robust research into the benefits of diverse leadership to organizations in every industry.

Our current Diverse Leaders investment area focuses on advancing educators and leaders of color who work in PreK-12 education. We invest in organizations committed to greater educator and leader diversity through efforts at recruitment, retention and support. Our goal is to see teachers and leaders more closely mirror the demographics of the students they serve. 

In earlier years, investments in “people” included other efforts such as our Learning to Teach Fund, for example. This fund involved connecting teachers to outstanding real-world practice and holding preparation programs more accountable for their impact on student achievement. We invested in new models, new tools, new organizations and a new market for talent.

Read more about our Diverse Leaders investment area.