The NewSchools Seed Fund

January 25, 2012

NewSchools Venture Fund is excited to announce the launch of the Seed Fund, an initiative to support high-impact, K-12 education technology companies. We’ve been supporting education entrepreneurs for 13 years through four funds and have invested over $180 million dollars in some of the leading education organizations—including, Aspire, KIPP, BetterLesson, GreatSchools, Revolution Foods and Education Elements. We’ve had the great privilege of collaborating with many entrepreneurs during the earliest stages—including Don Shalvey and Gloria Lee of Aspire; Alex Grodd of BetterLesson; and Bill Jackson of GreatSchools. This fund will build upon this history to find and support the innovators building the tools, services, apps, and content for tomorrow’s classrooms.

The backdrop

This is a really exciting time in education technology. We’re finding very impressive education entrepreneurs who are meeting real needs across our education system—and equally important, a K-12 system that is finally primed to receive these entrepreneurs and their new technologies.

A combination of factors have created a ripe environment for education technologies to take hold in K-12: state and federal budget cuts, decreasing technology costs, the adoption of a common set of academic standards across states, and the collective desire for a more personalized approach to schooling have opened schools doors to technology solutions.

With the Seed Fund, we combine the backbone of NewSchools Venture Fund with the pay-it-forward investing and mentoring culture of Silicon Valley to support founders dedicated to solving some of our toughest problems in K-12 education, especially for children from low-income communities. We are so lucky to be working alongside an amazing group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs committed to mentoring, advising and nurturing this growing education technology community. Technology executives like John Danner, Alan Louie, Tim Brady, and Geoff Ralston are now focused on education and helping to build an ecosystem for education startups that has long existed for consumer technology. And it’s not just tech executives getting involved, so many people care about the quality of education our kids are receiving and want to lend a hand.

We’re partnering with a growing number of angel investors who are eager to co-invest alongside NewSchools. This fund enables us to collaborate with these investors to support the entrepreneurs who are so often overlooked by traditional investors because of their focus on schools.

Why are you creating a separate Fund?

We have been fortunate to have foundations and individuals supportive of our mission to improve student achievement for students from low-income communities as our limited partners. NewSchools has a history of making early-stage investments. Our founder Kim Smith used to call these “around the corner” investments and so for a long time we dubbed our seed investments ATCs. In the past few years our ATCs shifted more heavily toward technology solutions and our schools have been telling us they needed things like platforms to share lessons and adaptive content to deliver instruction online.

The vast majority of our education technology pipeline is for-profit companies who are finding markets across the entire K-12 system (and even globally). Our charter schools are often early adopters of these products. To better serve the changing profile of these new companies our Seed Fund will have a broader investing mandate, a quicker decision-making process, and an amazing network of startup advisors.

Like our other NewSchools Funds, we’re looking for hungry founders with novel ideas for addressing some of the toughest pain points in K-12 education. We most often look to our portfolio educators to understand what these pain points are. This common set of needs has led us to identify some areas that will be initial focus, including:

  • Products that make information sharing frictionless among educators
  • High quality, highly scalable learning content
  • Communication tools that bring parents, teachers, and students closer
  • Tools that enable greater personalization of instruction
  • New models that focus on increasing access while lowering costs

First 2 investments

We’re thrilled to launch the Seed Fund today with investments in two great companies already providing value to educators across the country. Both were started by exceptional founders with unique insights into the problems they are tackling.

Goalbook is a company targeted at improving learning for the 30% of our nation’s kids who are identified as special education. Learn more at Goalbook was founded by Daniel Jhin Yoo, a former special education teacher (and computer scientist) working in Ravenswood who has created a product designed to better track special education students IEP’s so that all educators can support their students more effectively.

Engrade is a free set of web-based tools for educators allowing them to manage their classes online while providing parents and students with 24/7 real-time online access. Engrade was founded in 2003 by then 15 yr old Bri Holt who coded a program that would allow his teacher to give his students online access to their grades.

We’re thrilled to support these great entrepreneurs because of their dedication to the most underserved children. You can keep up with the latest news related to upcoming investments (and interesting ed tech products and companies we come across) on this blog and by following us at @nsvfSEED on Twitter.