Education entrepreneurs are redrawing the learning curve
Lumina Impact Ventures

Education entrepreneurs are redrawing the learning curve

Lumina is directly investing in social enterprises to drive education gains

There are at least two ways to look at everything, including innovation.

One way—let’s call it the radical approach—was aptly expressed by Charles F. Kettering, the early 20th-century engineer who invented the first electric cash register and later co-founded Delco. Kettering said this: “If you’ve always done it that way, it’s probably wrong.”

Champion boxer Oscar De La Hoya advocated another, less revolutionary approach. He said this: “There’s always space for improvement, no matter how long you’ve been in the business.”

At Lumina Foundation, we’ve long pushed for innovation in the nation’s system of higher learning. For years, it’s been clear—to us and to economists and other experts—that business as usual won’t work, that traditional approaches to post-high school education simply can’t produce the talent our nation needs to succeed.

So which approach to innovation is best—incremental improvement or radical change?

Simple. We need both … and everything in between. The need for talent is that urgent, and the stakes are that high.

To ensure individual prosperity and national stability, America’s most agile, innovative, entrepreneurial minds must tackle this challenge. They must redefine “college” and create new ways to deliver that vital learning experience to millions more Americans.

Fortunately, that’s happening. Educational innovators are out there, and the current issue of Lumina’s Focus magazine spotlights just a few of them. For example:

  • Helen Adeosun, co-founder and CEO of CareAcademy, a Massachusetts-based firm that produces instructional modules for home caregivers and makes the lessons available on mobile phones or tablet computers. Adeosun, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, built her company by mining her own work experience as a babysitter, a nanny, a teacher, a social worker—and as a home-health worker herself. CareAcademy, founded in 2013, now has more than 200 home-health companies as clients.
  • Brian Hill, founder of Edovo, a Chicago-based company that equips incarcerated men and women with tablet computers loaded with educational software. Hill’s father, a college psychology instructor in California, also taught classes to inmates Folsom State Prison, and he used that experience to foster empathy among his six children, including young Brian. Decades later, Brian Hill combined empathy with entrepreneurism to build a thriving company. Edovo, launched in 2013, now employs 85 people and has made more than 25,000 tablet computers available in correctional facilities.
  • Melvin Hines Jr., co-founder of a Texas-based educational software firm called Upswing. As a young man, Hines was disturbed by the dismally low success rates among his high school and college classmates—especially low-income students and students of color. In 2013, soon after earning his degrees (in economics, business, and law), Hines addressed his concerns: He and a partner founded Upswing. Today, the firm’s products are helping more than 80 colleges and universities boost students’ success by facilitating peer tutoring, intensive advising, and other services.

These three entrepreneurs—and their companies—are part of a vital trend: the embrace of innovation in education. All across the nation, creative people such as these are working to make learning more accessible, more flexible, more tailored to today’s students, and more relevant to the world in which they live and work.

At Lumina, we’ve long supported such work, and recently we took a new step in this direction—an appropriately innovative one. In 2015, we established an in-house unit called Lumina Impact Ventures—a fund through which we invest directly in companies that are pioneering new ways to increase educational attainment. The firms founded by Adeosun, Hill, and Hines are among those in the Lumina Impact Ventures portfolio.

These three entrepreneurs have a lot in common—much more than the fact that each is 34 years old and leads a firm that has received Lumina funding. Each has a compelling back story. Prior to founding an innovative company, each of them pursued a career that didn’t quite fit. And they all show a dogged determination to succeed.

Perhaps most important, though, is their common embrace of a trait that’s far too uncommon among businesspeople these days: genuine social responsibility. Yes, they’re all in business, and they all want their businesses to succeed. But their definition of success goes far beyond merely showing a profit.

At the root of it, each of them is in business to improve lives. They’re working to provide life-changing learning, to make knowledge more available to those who need it most.

At Lumina, we get that. In fact, we work every day toward the very same goal. We hope these stories inspire you to join us in that effort.

Read more in Focus magazine, here.

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