Creating Innovative Ecosystems

By: Alex Hernandez
When it comes to education innovation, all cities are not created equal.
San Jose is the Mesopotamia of blended learning with Summit Public Schools, Rocketship Education, Alpha Public Schools, KIPP Bay Area, and Milpitas Unified School District all within a few miles of a bustling coffeehouse where new education ideas are brewed and served daily. Khan Academy and EdSurge are headquartered a few miles north on the 101 Highway. And the Silicon Schools Fund provides early-stage philanthropy for new breakthrough school models.
New Orleans is home to 4.0 Schools, an incubator that brings together communities of educators to prototype new solutions to real problems. New Schools for New Orleans provides capital, coaching and startup support for educators launching high-quality, new schools. And Teach for America fuels the Crescent City’s entrepreneurial spirit with over 1,200 mission-driven corp members and alumni.
New education ideas are flourishing in places like Baltimore, Boise and Memphis, cities with relatively little activity just a few short years ago.
Innovative cities tend to have some common characteristics:
Courageous, early-stage capital. Education entrepreneurs need money to pursue their bold ideas and innovative ecosystems have philanthropists and for-profit investors with an appetite for investing at the earliest stages.
Places to tinker, prototype and meet other education innovators. Organizations like 4.0 Schools, the Digital Harbor Foundation and Startup Weekend EDU provide safe spaces for educators to lean into new ideas and meet other like-minded innovators.
People, people, people. Innovative ecosystems are home to organizations that attract talent and develop tomorrow’s leaders. For example, Dan Carroll, co-founder of the successful edtech startup Clever, began his career as a Teach for America corp member and was a teacher at STRIVE Prep, a successful charter school network. Organizations like TFA and STRIVE are magnets for talent and set the foundation for future innovation.
Support to launch new ventures. Innovative ecosystems are places where educators see a path to bring their ideas to life. This means access to capital, talent, advisors and other supports that make the difference between success and failure.
There has never been a better time to be an education entrepreneur. And whether they know it or not, cities compete to attract our best talent. The good news: cities can significantly increase education innovation through targeted, strategic investment.

This post contributes to the #SmartCities Series- for more information on the upcoming book, see here.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 10.28.27 PMAlex Hernandez is a partner at the Charter School Growth Fund and leads their next-generation schools practice. He is on the board of 4.0 Schools and Rocketship Education . The Charter School Growth Fund is a philanthropic investor in Summit Public Schools, Rocketship and STRIVE Prep.

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