Michael & Susan Dell Foundation Pours $1.5M Into Business-University Accelerator

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An accelerator program that seeks to pair education technology companies with university researchers has a new financial backer: the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, which will support projects in urban schools.

The Jefferson Education Accelerator, a commercial project, arranges to give companies the ability to have their products tested by academic researchers. In exchange for advising the companies, the accelerator gets a share of equity in those businesses.

The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia is helping advise the accelerator, and UVA faculty are providing a scientific review board to review the quality of the research.

Dell’s funding will support seven companies over a four-year period, with those entities focusing mostly on urban schools and teachers’ use of data to support instruction, the accelerator said in a statement.

To date, the Jefferson Education Accelerator has been entirely funded by nonprofits, foundations, and venture philanthropists, accelerator CEO Bart Epstein explained in an e-mail. The Curry School of Education Foundation and USA Funds are two primary backers, he said. The share of equity that the accelerator gets in education businesses is small, Epstein said, and taken with the goal of making the Jefferson project self-sustaining.

In addition, the organization also manages a small co-investing fund that uses private capital to try to secure financial returns, Epstein explained. If the fund provides returns on those investments, a portion will be devoted to backing the accelerator’s mission.

Since it was launched last year, the Jefferson Education Accelerator has only announced publicly that it is working with two education companies, Agile Mind and Echo360. But Epstein said the organization is working with other businesses, too, though his organization is not ready to reveal them publicly yet. One of those organizations in a nonprofit focused on teaching, and another is a company focused on math that has research behind it.

The companies that will be supported through the Dell foundation grant haven’t been chosen yet, the CEO said, and the accelerator plans to spend time “digging into who is doing what and which things show the greatest promise.”

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