“Entrepreneurs are essential drivers of innovation and progress. In the business world, they act as engines of growth, harnessing opportunity and innovation to fuel economic advancement. Social entrepreneurs act similarly, tapping inspiration and creativity, courage and fortitude, to seize opportunities that challenge and forever change established, but fundamentally inequitable systems.”

—Skoll Foundation

Social entrepreneurship is not a new phenomenon, but it is has taken on heightened urgency in today’s increasingly interconnected world of “haves” and “have-nots.” It is a phrase on the tips of tongues of students, educators, and policy makers from Berkeley to Cambridge and everywhere in between—including Cairo, Egypt, in a speech by President Barack Obama in June 2009. There is a growing wave of people working around the world leveraging entrepreneurial principles to solve public problems and make social change.

Public education in the United States is one of those “established, but fundamentally inequitable systems” that social entrepreneurs have set their sights on. The recent surge in applications for Teach for America, the KIPP Academies, and other charter schools shows the growing hunger among young people to contribute to the public good and improve education. But this burgeoning interest by the next generation to work within the traditional educational structure is not the beginning of the story . . .

Since the report A Nation at Risk was released in 1983, there has been a growing class of “education entrepreneurs”—social entrepreneurs whose mission was to improve educational outcomes for students across America. These entrepreneurs established meaningful and successful enterprises and are responsible for the creation and growth of one of the most important sectors in the U.S. economy—the education industry.

These entrepreneurs worked inside and around the traditional education infrastructure to bolster the learning experiences of millions of students in new and innovative ways. If today’s educators, administrators, and public policy makers are to maximize the energy and resources of the new generation of social entrepreneurs in education, it would be helpful to understand the successes and pitfalls of the generation that came before.

This book tells the story of those who came before—the “education entrepreneurs” who toiled beneath the radar for years and created private ventures for the public good. Mixing never-before-shared, first-hand accounts, company and personal profiles, and enterprise and industry data, Social Entrepreneurship in Education illuminates the many possibilities for non- traditional business approaches to education. It is a must read for those trying to understand how social entrepreneurship can work to effectively, efficiently, and successfully improve education for American students.

We are on the cusp of huge changes in the education industry. It is forecasted to grow significantly from its $100 billion base, spurred mostly by new learning models on the Internet and the merging of Web 2.0 and social learning. Just as change has happened to the automotive industry and the financial services industry, so too is change coming to education. As we are seeing in districts across the country, change is in. It is in for students, for businesspeople, and it will have to be “in” for superintendents and other administrators.

The book is divided into three sections. The first explores the motivations behind why someone from the private sector would choose to operate within the existing education system and how to do so innovatively and efficiently.

The second section details the trials and tribulations of an education entrepreneur working to build a scalable and profitable research and consulting business, while simultaneously helping to define and build infrastructure for a still-nascent education industry. The final section provides a broad look at the investment history in the industry, particularly the boom-and-bust period in the dot-com era and the overall impact of the Internet on education. It is from this period that many of the new breed of education entrepreneurs evolved and a sustainable industry sector was established.

The book surveys what has been done in the past twenty-five years and what lies ahead, now that the foundation for social entrepreneurship in education has been created. This is not intended to be a policy book. It is a book that tells the stories of the innovators who defined an industry and the characteristics they share as “education entrepreneurs.” It is a story about passion and perseverance, about people who wanted to grow businesses while giving back to society. In many ways, this is a story about the American Dream and the many people who remain committed to making a better life for our nation’s children. While we still may be “A Nation At Risk,” this book takes an optimistic look at our future. The people you will meet in the following pages show us that even during challenging times, we can regain our position as the leader in education at home and around the world.

“But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century . . . I am emphasizing such investments within my country . . . On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America . . . invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo . . . All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort—a sustained effort—to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.”

-President Barack Obama, June 4, 2009, Cairo, Egypt