We have a beautiful day today in San Francisco, in spite of the Super Bowl logistics doing their best to make our lives difficult. Today we’ll be filming a promo for the launch of our edtech accelerator program which we’re announcing March 7 at SXSWedu. The focus of the program is on higher education and lifelong learning. The goal is to help startups who are making education more affordable and results focused for students who are most at risk of falling through the cracks in our society. It’s nice to be focusing on issues that extend beyond traditional Silicon Valley.
I’ve been asked where I see opportunities in the space. There are almost too many to enumerate, and we’re keeping an open mind regarding our investment criteria for that reason. Big picture, over the past 25 years, technology has democratized knowledge, allowing anyone with an internet connection to access more knowledge from the palm of their hand than previously existed in the known world. And yet our current educational system is predicated on a 500 year old model, when only a select handful of individuals were allowed the honor of learning from a modest collection of books and scholars who could read them. It was a rare opportunity afforded to only the wealthy and privileged. Flash forward 500 years and we’re still using these same models in which students are asked to move from their homes and congregate together for years at a time, at great expense.
For many this model suits them just fine. It’s not important that the information they learn could be accessed anywhere, or that there are countless free opportunities to view lectures from the smartest scholars of our age. They enjoy the higher education experience and view it as almost a finishing school - a rite of passage to adulthood. And yet for some, the loans they have to take out and time spent away from working saddles them with an oppressive burden which will follow them for years. Yet our society has made it crucial to go through this process to get employment that will lead to a middle class life. What’s worse, there isn’t even a promise for today’s students that they will be able to get a job after they graduate from their expensive education. There’s only an implicit social contract that they will receive more money for having spent time and money on higher education. But this is implicit, and subject to many prejudices such as race, gender and lack of family connections.
Technology has the opportunity to level the playing field, allowing students of all ages to access knowledge and training they need to become successful and financially stable. It even allows us to pursue purely intellectual studies such as foreign languages, music training and the arts. As a society, we owe it to the next generation to create easy-to-access solutions that will usher in this new era of learning opportunities. Many innovative models that are leveraging technology are enabling students with disparate learning styles to learn in a way that is most effective for them. Technology is able to give early warning signs when students are falling behind, and tools for teachers to make sure they catch up and are shepherded into a successful exit.
It’s an exciting time for education. And Runway is excited to be a part of it. If you, or anyone you know, is interested in tackling these challenges with us, please let me know. I would love to talk.