The education entrepreneur flywheel

Entrepreneurs are a special breed. Visionary, tenacious, passionate – they set forth on a path and remain focused on achieving their objectives. Perhaps none more so than the entrepreneurs showcased at this week’s MaRS Education Cluster Venture Pitch Day.

The event featured 23 of MaRS’ most promising education ventures that sell into the K-12 system, with each pitching in 20-minute time slots

The event featured 23 of MaRS’ most promising education ventures that sell into the K-12 system, with each pitching in 20-minute time slots to an audience representing the Ontario Ministry of Education, national school boards, a prominent teachers’ association, publishing companies, and institutional and angel investors.

Working with an education system that is mostly impenetrable, these entrepreneurs have created innovative programs and tools that supplement traditional learning methods both inside and outside the classroom. And many of them have reached, or are starting to reach, breakthrough points, both in terms of positive social impact and a business model.

Take the case of One Voice One Team. The brainchild of former CFL athlete, Orlando Bowen, One Voice One Team began as an inspirational event to honour a local community champion who had been diagnosed with cancer and had three months to live, but whose positive attitude and tenacity made him a role model for others.

Recognizing the need to expose young people to positive role models and mentors, and to create the right conditions and opportunities for them to overcome personal challenges, Orlando and his team started to offer leadership and mentorship programs through summer camps and eventually, in schools. In less than six years, One Voice One Team has reached over 25,000 young people, and the demand for its services continues to grow exponentially.

Then there’s Bitstrips, an online program that allows people to create personalized online comic strips through user-friendly, web-based technology. Bitstrips is an exceptional literacy tool that engages and empowers students in a fun way. While creating their own comic strips, students learn valuable reading and writing skills, digital literacy, social skills, empathy, collaboration and more. Currently in its third year, Bitstrips has engaged nearly a million kids through in-school and at-home access to its online platform.

Education ventures like these are in line with the types of social ventures that could qualify to access the Social Venture Exchange (SVX), a local online platform and non-profit initiative of the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing that seeks to enable greater investments for positive social and environmental impact. With a strong focus on impact and sustainable business models, these ventures represent the kinds of impact investment opportunities for those who wish to align their investing with their beliefs and values.

The flywheel is in motion.