Investing in Tools & Services that Support Innovative Schools

February 4, 2015

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been sharing some information about our investment strategy at NewSchools.

In a January 13 blog post about innovative school models, I acknowledged we’re at the beginning of our work as an investor in schools that put more power in students’ hands and tailor learning to their individual needs.

Then on January 26 we shared some news in EdSurge about our ed tech investing. For us, these investment areas make sense together. As innovative school models flourish, they need great tools and services that support kids and teachers. As we invest in both areas, we’ll share what we’re learning from our portfolio early and often so that the schools and tools can get better faster. These three areas combine to make up our strategy over the next few years.


In the EdSurge story, we mentioned briefly that we would also continue to make grants to tools and services providers through our nonprofit. Here’s a bit more detail about how that will work.

Ed tech innovation and investing has grown rapidly over the last few years, but there are still gaps in the market for tools and services that innovative schools need to be successful. For instance, while the availability of high quality digital math content is increasing rapidly for most grade levels, digital science content aligned to Next Gen Science Standards is lagging, as are the platform tools and assessments needed to manage competency-based progressions.

We’ll develop ongoing insights into market gaps from available research such as the Teachers Know Best report from the Gates Foundation and the work EdSurge and others are doing to create better market information. We’ll also learn a lot from educators in the innovative schools we’ll fund about content and tools they need but can’t find, and we’ll keep an eye on what is (and is not) flowing into the pipelines of our ed tech fund and other investors.

To catalyze innovation to address these gaps, we will run national Challenges to mobilize entrepreneurs to bring their best ideas forward. We’ll make grants to the most promising teams (for-profit and nonprofit) to advance their product development and test their tools with teachers and students, and we’ll share the results of those trials broadly. We anticipate running one or two Challenges a year over the next few years, always focused on areas that are important to teachers and students and where innovation is lagging.

We’ll cultivate partnerships with regional and local incubators and accelerators around the country to help generate interest from entrepreneurs and to make sure they are well supported during the challenge cycles.

Occasionally we’ll make grants outside of our Challenge efforts to a very limited number of nonprofit entrepreneurs with breakthrough ideas for tools and services that can strengthen the design and implementation of innovative school models, and who have the potential to achieve scale and sustainability.  

We anticipate announcing our first Challenge in late spring or early summer, and are excited to work together with entrepreneurs and educators to increase the availability of effective tools and services that matter for learning.