In 1993 entrepreneur Michael Sandler combined his business acumen and personal interest in the reform of public education to form Eduventures. The firm was probably the first company focused on the new breed of businesspersons forming firms to change teaching and learning with the sale of new products, services and programs. Located in Boston, then (and still) one of the hotbeds of k-12 research, development and policy innovation in close proximity to venture capital, Eduventures was well-positioned to help firms think about their future, make strategic connections, and get into the capital raising game. The market for this kind of work was never what you might call “hot,” but Mike is a very persistent guy, he hired a lot of bright young energetic talent, and the firm followed through on its “friend to the entrepreneur” motto. A lot of things happened in the emerging school improvement industry that never would have occurred if he hadn’t started the firm. There are many still small companies (as compared to the old industry’s multinational publishers) indebted to Mike and Eduventures, to say nothing of entrepreneurs and others in the school improvement industry. The Education Industry Association owes its name and such influence as it has as a trade group to the catalytic influence of Eduventures.
Eduventures’ support for k-12 firms coalesced into its Business Research Division, a syndicated research service with fees in the several tens of thousands of dollars per year. Still, over time the firm found Higher Education to be a more profitable niche. That tail gradually came to wag the dog, and ultimately became the dog. On January 22, the firm announced the sale of its k-12 research business to Outsell, a syndicated research and advisory services firm headquartered in London and San Francisco.
It was the right business decision for Eduventures, led by Tom Dretler since 1999. But it tells me that we’ve reached the end of an era. What era? First, one that parallels the evolution of a set of firms founded before the internet bubble burst and the little venture capital out there for new k-12 firms evaporated. Second, one that traces an arc of political, social and educational innovation that motivated so many to leave whatever path they were on to become education entrepreneurs in the 1990’s. The sale of Eduventures’ Business Research Division is hardly the beginning of the end of days, but it does symbolize the end of the beginning. The school improvement industry may remain fragmented, but it is no longer emerging.
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