This week I met with a private equity firm and talked to a new venture fund both interested in education. That makes a couple dozen of each that at least look at learning deals. Most of the VCs fall into the ‘hacking education’ category and only consider disruptive tech plays. Most of the PEs focus on higher education deals because we understand that market. But slowly, the market is opening to K-12 entrepreneurs and investors that will develop and scale innovative tools and schools.

A growing number of foundations are interested in ideas with a business model behind it. A few are dabbling with for-profit ventures. MacArthur is making creative use of contracting. Kellogg is making a few ‘mission related investments’ from their endowment. Let’s hope Shelton is successful in getting a handful of foundations to align their resources to his Innovation Fund and do some interesting work. He is stuck with overly restrictive language, but foundations should be able to take risk with a long-horizon.

We need more R&D funding against scalable breakthroughs. Government needs to make room to innovate. Foundations need to mitigate risk and promote equity. Private capital—with incentives for speed, scale, and quality—needs to fund learning innovation.

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


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