By Jennifer Carolan
Today, Reach Capital, the education technology VC firm I co-founded with Shauntel, Wayee & Esteban, launched our third fund. At $165 million, it’s more than double our previous fund. But it’s not the size of the fund that matters. It’s the aspiration.
Since our inception, we’ve set out to do two things well: to deliver excellent financial returns by building excellent companies, and to deliver a benefit to society by backing companies that help people improve their lives through learning. We focused on education when few in VC did, and we’re proud that we’ve delivered both top-tier financial returns and an impressive record of impact.
Delivering both returns and impact is why our new fund is supported by a premier set of investors including the Ford Foundation, National Geographic Society, Sesame Workshop, Caprock, Hall Capital, and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. Especially notable is that public employee retirement funds have invested in our new fund. What that means to us is that we have to grow their capital — and we have to deliver on the values that led them to spend their careers in public service.
That’s a sacred trust that we take very personally at Reach.
I grew up in the Chicagoland area, and went to two very different high schools — one in the city itself, and one in its suburbs. The shift gave me a front-row seat to educational inequity, and a life’s mission. I spent seven years as a public school teacher, beginning in a working-class town near where I grew up.
I became a venture capitalist for the same reason I became a teacher — to knock down barriers for students.
That may sound strange. But it’s something I believe deeply.
There are still far too many barriers that keep kids — especially Black, Latinx, those from under resourced communities, and those with disabilities — away from intriguing, exciting, joyful educational experiences. Systemic racism and classism are baked into our educational structures.
We are not naive enough to believe technology alone solves this problem. But we have seen that when an idea rooted in sound pedagogy is amplified and brought to life by cutting edge technology, it can be a powerful catalyst to expand access to learning and opportunity.
We know this because we invested at the seed stage in Nearpod, Outschool, Replit, Newsela and Lovevery. These companies began with an idea grounded in what’s best for learners and have scaled to become global leaders in their respective categories.
Uncovering and eliminating barriers has never been more urgent.
The pandemic has laid bare longstanding inequities, especially in education. Retreating into our homes has cut us off from vital human connection, and corroded the sense of shared public good that happens when we come together to learn.
And the pandemic has made education technology an essential, inevitable part of the lives of millions — but we’re not celebrating. The experience of remote learning has been frustrating and confusing for many, even as it has been utterly necessary.
But the mess didn’t begin with COVID-19. Long before the pandemic, we were a country struggling with division and polarization — divided by extremes of wealth, by race, by politics, and by our inability to establish even the most basic set of shared facts.
At Reach, we believe stronger education is part of the answer to all these challenges. Not by itself, obviously. But with many wider changes too. The need has never been greater for the type of education that makes students critical consumers of information, for building meaningful relationships that expand social capital and charting pathways toward fulfilling and gainful employment.
Above all, we believe that education is a fundamentally human experience — one where technology can support but never replace the interpersonal experience.
All of this happens only if the tools are designed by people who understand learning, who build upon the corpus of learning sciences, who reflect the diversity of our population, and who design with equity and excellence at the center. With this fund, we’re excited to back this next generation of founders building solutions to enable learning for students of all ages and corners of the world.
At Reach, we believe in opportunity through education because we’ve lived it. All of us come from modest backgrounds; all found our own way through education, and have deep experience in teaching, starting education companies, working in higher ed and designing products. We invest in companies that will narrow, not widen, gaps of opportunity.
No one’s saying venture capital is going to save the world. But we do think that in our new fund, we can do more than ever to eliminate systemic barriers to access and success. And, in a small but meaningful way, we think that will make our fund a force for equity, ultimately helping to advance mobility and connection, strengthening the social fabric in a divided country.