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Embedding key practices across all your customer-facing functions can drive efficient growth

As a longtime operator and investor in education, I’ve spoken with many edtech entrepreneurs serving schools and districts across the country who are struggling to connect with new prospects and customers. The COVID pandemic has exhausted teachers and administrators and overwhelmed them with daily tasks. They have far less capacity to discuss exciting new projects and initiatives, which is what startups depend on to fill the top of their sales funnels. Not only is it difficult to reach prospects, but it can be detrimental to your brand if you’re filling up email inboxes and making phone calls when schools are overwhelmed with product offers. …


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I’m a venture investor in K12 education, so it might seem strange for me to advocate for a different kind of capital other than traditional venture capital. After all, I benefit from my current work making venture investments into early stage, high growth companies. I’ve been fortunate to invest in many outstanding entrepreneurs who have subsequently raised tens of millions in venture capital and are growing highly successful companies that serve the education market. So, why would I advocate for a different kind of capital?

Several years into doing this work, I see a number of signs that traditional venture capital is not a fit for many entrepreneurs who are focused on building companies that create long-term positive social impact in education, especially in K12 where innovation is slow, sales cycles are long, and measurable impact takes time and patience. Edovate Capital, LLC, which is my holding company, has allowed me to approach investing from a patient capital/long-term perspective, but this structure isn’t the norm in our industry. Most funds are backed by Limited Partners (LPs) who are looking for significant returns within five to seven years or so of the initial investment. This type of structure is not aligned to the needs of most K12 entrepreneurs who are looking to create long-term value and impact for students, parents, teachers, and school leaders. …


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Chronically absent students achieve poorer results than their peers

Amid the global uncertainty and economic calamity left in its wake, COVID-19 has exposed founders and teams who are adaptable. At a time when future K12 funding is uncertain, school structures are ambiguous and highly variable, and school district leaders are frantically trying to get basic distance learning structures up and running, management’s ability to adapt around a customer-centered focus is suddenly essential. We at Edovate Capital believe that CEO Emily Bailard and her team at EveryDayLabs (fka InClass Today) have passed this test.

Emily and her team are addressing the large-scale attendance crisis in the U.S., which affects more than 7.5 million students who are considered chronically absent (missing 10% or more of the school year). Chronic absenteeism contributes to lower reading and math scores, higher student course failure rates, and increased dropout rates. It seems obvious, but students who attend school more often achieve better results than students who are often absent. …


Edovate portfolio companies are rising to the challenges posed by COVID-19 in K12 education

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During this COVID-19 crisis, I’m inspired every day by the amazing efforts of entrepreneurs and their teams to positively impact the lives of those touched by K12 schools and districts. Not only are they addressing challenges to help teachers, administrators, and students continue educating and learning, but they’re also supporting hundreds of employees and their families. Here’s a sample of some of the amazing work that Edovate Capital portfolio companies are doing to create impact during COVID-19.


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Now is the time for service, creating, and supporting community, not for traditional sales and marketing

With schools across the country closed now and for the foreseeable future, students, teachers, administrators, and parents are all at home protecting themselves from the novel coronavirus. We’re all practicing social distancing now to slow the spread of COVID-19, which is a necessary step to protect our communities. Social distancing is really more about “physical distancing” than it is about reducing social interaction.

We don’t have to disconnect with one another while we social distance, but there’s a void out there right now in school communities for people to connect with each other. We’re hearing a lot about the threat the virus poses to physical health, to our economy, and to our way of life, but less focus is being paid to our collective and individual mental health. The risks to mental health are considerable if we reduce or eliminate our social interaction. …


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More than half of all K12 public school students are out of school starting this week

When I posted last Thursday, school closures were just beginning in a few places hit hard by the novel coronavirus, but over the weekend, school leaders made difficult decisions to close schools en masse across the country. As the time of writing this post, more than 30 million K12 students are out of school for the next few weeks. I expect that the closures will continue until nearly every student in a K12 school is home. I also suspect that closures may last for the rest of this school year. The CDC recommends school closure of 8 weeks or more to better mitigate the spread of the virus. …


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The headlines are inescapable. The novel coronavirus is on the rise in the U.S. and across the globe. We’re just starting to see some of the health and economic effects of this pandemic. Just this week, the U.S. reported more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 with many more expected, the World Health Organization has declared a pandemic, major sporting events have been canceled or postponed, a 30-day ban on travel from most of Europe has been implemented, and some schools are starting to close because of concerns about the coronavirus. …


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In my years as an edtech operator, I made a number of mistakes that limited the growth of the startups I worked on. They included lack of product/market fit, selling a “nice-to-have” instead of a “must-have” product, lack of capital, and numerous others. As an edtech investor today, I see entrepreneurs struggle to grow for these same reasons and even more. More often than not, I find that distribution is a critical challenge entrepreneurs wrestle with. It’s no secret that effective distribution for most edtech ventures is difficult — selling to educational institutions is challenging. If it was easy, every venture would be growing at a high rate. Ventures that figure out distribution have a decided competitive advantage in today’s edtech world. …


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Evidence is mounting that diverse teams outperform their counterparts in the workforce. Gender diversity is one area where the performance advantage goes to more diverse teams. A study by Credit Suisse found that companies with at least one female board member outperform their all-male counterparts. Another study led by Vivek Wadhwa and Lesa Mitchell found that women-led technology startups outperformed male-led tech startups in critical measures such as capital efficiency, return on investment, and revenue generation.

Other studies point out that ethnic diversity is an advantage as well. A McKinsey & Company report showed that among hundreds of public companies, those in the top quartile of ethnic and racial diversity for their cohort financially outperformed others. …


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As an experienced startup operator and investor in education, I speak with hundreds of education entrepreneurs a year and often get asked advice about building a successful startup. There’s a tremendous amount of good content out there about how to build a startup and I suggest entrepreneurs check out some of the amazing resources that are available. They include resources from leading accelerators including Techstars and Y Combinator and books like The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. These are excellent guides to building different kinds of startups.

As good as these resources are, I think there are some specific things about building an education startup that should be highlighted. These education context-specific lessons come from my experience operating in three startups and investing in about 15 to date. So, here’s a short list of things that every education entrepreneur should know. …

About

Graham Forman

Serial edtech entrepreneur turned impact investor. Founder and Managing Director at Edovate Capital. #edtech #edchat #education #startup #innovation

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