Repeat education entrepreneur Gene Wade grew up on the frontlines of desegregation: “I started school in Boston the year the federal court ordered the public school system to end racial segregation. Kids from my neighborhood were bused to schools across town with police escorts amid violent protests,” he says. These events would have a formative impact on Gene and propel him into a career of social entrepreneurship focused on using technology to improve educational outcomes and empower learners.
While building several ed tech companies, Gene developed a north star that has served him well in his career and it is something he advises entrepreneurs on at AI Fund.
“The most important thing for ed tech entrepreneurs is clarity of purpose. What are your guiding principles? What are you trying to accomplish? Who will benefit from your product or service?”
“Then you assemble a team of people who share that mission,” says Gene. “I recommend recruiting folks, particularly at the early stages of the company, who would be working on your mission regardless of whether the company existed. Startups run into all kinds of turbulence along their journeys and having a team with a clear purpose and shared values helps you successfully navigate.
“Ed tech startups have the added challenge of launching products and services into a market that historically resists change,” he continues. “In addition to being crystal clear about their purpose and their value propositions, they must also anticipate and address the nonobvious roadblocks they will likely face. This is something I have spent my career learning to do, although I learned it the hard way!”
Gene earned a law degree from Harvard and an MBA from Wharton and began building a series of education companies. First was a charter school management company that operated five schools and was quickly acquired by Edison Schools. Next up, he wanted to leverage technology to improve the educational outcomes for low-income students and Platform Learning Inc was born. Platform Learning provided after school tutoring services and grew to serve more than 50,000 low-income students in 500+ US public schools.
That led to an idea to bring disruptive technology to higher education. “Looking at higher ed and the debt crisis that was unfolding, I saw an opportunity to use technology to offer low-cost degree programs while significantly increasing the quality of learning on digital platforms,” he says.
The result was UniversityNow Inc, an accredited university and tech platform. The platform eventually scaled to serve hundreds of thousands of students saving them tens of millions of dollars in annual tuition. National University System acquired UniversityNow in 2018. Following the sale, Gene co-founded Honors Pathway, an organization dedicated to helping first generation college students attend college and launch careers.
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