OVERVIEW: NewSchools Venture Fund is a venture philanthropy outfit. It pools its funders' money and makes grants to organizations that are working to “transform public education for low-income children.” It was founded, and remains heavily backed, by tech industry leaders.
IP TAKE: The fund looks for innovation that can transform education, just as it has transformed other sectors. It's on the lookout for new ideas and early-stage projects. “Entrepreneurship” is the watchword, reflecting its origins in the tech industry. Opportunities for charters abound in this funder’s giving profile, and the focus of its DC Schools Fund is exclusively on charter schools in the nation’s capital.
PROFILE: The mission of NewSchools Venture Fund is "transforming public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children—especially those in underserved communities—have the opportunity to succeed.”
Note in that mission statement the term “public education.” That is the sole focus for NewSchools Venture Fund, but it takes a wide view of how to best build these schools (or “quality seats,” as the fund calls them). Its Boston Fund and DC Schools Fund are specifically focused on charter schools, but its Oakland City Fund is more open-ended. Also, when it comes to teacher training and education technology for the classroom, NewSchools is looking for ideas that can be implemented in as many settings as possible.
At NewSchools Venture Fund, “entrepreneurship” is another watchword, reflecting its origins in the tech industry. NewSchools mainly gives grants to brand new ideas to which it can commit at the outset. This funder doesn’t care if its grantees operate in a non-profit or for-profit capacity, but it does care about innovative ideas that serve K-12 public school students, particularly those in low-income communities.
NewSchools currently operates four different funds, each of which has a specific mission:
- Innovative Schools, which “invest[s] in a diverse and dynamic community of public schools (PreK-12) that emphasize personalization and student agency”
- Tools & Services, which supports “promising for-profit and nonprofit entrepreneurs developing digital tools and services that support teaching and learning in PreK-12 schools,” especially looking to fill any “gaps” in innovations related to technology use in education
- Diverse Leaders works through several approaches with the goal being “to increase the number of Black and Latino [education] founders and CEOs, senior leadership team members, and board members to represent at least 30% of all education leadership by 2020.”
- The DC Schools Fund works “to accelerate the pace of reform in Washington, DC by supporting a substantial increase in the quality of Washington DC’s charter sector.
Each of the pages linked above also includes a list of that particular funding area’s “venture team,” which is well worth reviewing to get a better sense of the priorities and backgrounds of the group you might be working with.
The fund previously had an Oakland City Fund that supported high-quality public school creation through community engagement and entrepreneurship, but in July 2015 this was spun off into an autonomous organization called Educate78, in reference to its mission to mission is to support the “development of new high quality schools, cultivate local education leaders, and engage families and community to champion policies that will produce more world-class public schools” within the 78 square miles that make up the city of Oakland, CA.
The fund also previously had a Boston fund focused on replicating successes at high-performing Boston charters, a and another called “Learning to Teach” that supports teacher training, and a Seed Fund to support education technology, but those programs appear to have been either discontinued or absorbed into its current funds.
While there are several commonalities when looking at NewSchools’ current programs in relation to past funding efforts, several of the fund’s programmatic areas have changed or been replaced over time, so it’s important to review the site on a regular basis to keep up-to-date on its funding priorities and focus areas. That said, some key qualities it looks for among its applicants are a “special focus on underserved students,” early-stage ideas with the potential for scalability, effective teams who are open to working closely with the fund, a commitment to diversity, and demonstrated financial stability.
NewSchools Venture Fund’s website includes a useful tool that lets visitors sort through current and past award recipients by program area, and which provides a brief synopsis for each investment, including funding amount.
There’s a lot of room for good ideas here. When you’re ready to share yours with the NewSchools Venture Fund, visit their Submit Your Idea page to get started.
- Stacy Childress, Chief Executive Officer
- Scott Benson, Managing Partner, Innovative Schools
- Tonika Cheek Clayton, Managing Partner, Tools & Services
- Deborah McGriff, Managing Partner
- Maura Marino, Managing Director, DC Schools Fund