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Watching John Doerr at NGA: Why School Improvement Providers Should Too

Today, John Doerr, partner in the famed venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers briefed the National Governors Association on the emerging industry in green technologies. It was a masterful performance. I wish he had given its analog on the emerging school improvement industry when he founded NewSchools Venture Fund with Kim Smith in 1998. I wish anyone of his stature had done so then or anytime thereafter.

I do remember Doerr making a good case for the need at NSVF inaugural conference (I even sat on a panel there about nonprofit sustainability), but nothing so concrete about what investors needed government to do. Maybe it was because he saw education as a nonprofit/philanthropic venture. Maybe he understands green technology and business models better than he did its counterparts in the education space. As an investor, KPBC did do well staying out of the sector.

I've been arguing for a very long time about the need for our firms to encourage their investors to show the economic advantages of a school improvement industry, and explain the influence state and federal government laws, regulations and rules have on investors willingness to stake the cash. (here, here, here and here). I have read, seen or heard no better model for that case that this. It's a "must watch" for the leaders of Knowledge Alliance, SIIA and EIA. But anyone running a company in the field should be using the presentation as a model for any public policy question about the future of school improvement firms.

One parting observation. Doerr was passionate about school reform, and no doubt it's still one of his interests. Still, it looks like green industry is his new, new thing. My gut tells me that the venture capitalist money, spirit and publicity that made New Schools a force, is not exactly spent, but neither is it anywhere near as powerful. NSVF first made a big draw on Silicon Valley philanthropy, then the federal government, and more recently newer, but still institutional philanthropy. They are about to undertake a public review of their main bet - investment in Charter Management Organizations. Their future capacity to raise money may well depend on the social return on investment measured by test student score and the costs of achieving those outcomes, rather than the attraction of the venture philanthropy concept.

This may be their peak.

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