One of the greatest pleasures of being a VC is discovering new ideas, new products and experiences, engaging with the founding teams to learn their story and the ‘why’ of their journey to building the startup. Often, I’ll come across a company that resonates enough to compel me to contact the founder and ask them about their vision.
Two years ago, I found Amanda DoAmaral of Fiveable via a YouTube video and sent her a cold message. Last year, I saw Fluent on Product Hunt and reached out to Ara Ghougassian. A couple of months ago, it happened again – I came across Edgi Learning and was quite intrigued. So I reached out to Josh Shapiro, whose experience as a high school dropout turned NYU professor has shaped his views on the state of our education system and the dire need for better alternatives.
Edgi Learning, Josh’s latest venture with Tinsley Maier and Aashay Mody, empowers high school students by giving them access to peer-led spaces where they can discuss meaningful issues that are affecting their lives. The company is founded on the belief that high school students are driven, aware, and ready to lead, but are routinely underestimated by traditional educational institutions. I couldn’t agree more. So much so, in fact, that investing in Edgi Learning feels like a homecoming for me.
In many ways, the founders’ journeys run in lockstep with mine – we’ve all focused our learning energies on activities beyond the classroom. During undergrad, I worked for a non-profit organization based on the same premise: high school students are capable of more intellectual rigor and skillbuilding than they are getting in the classroom.
And that was 15 years ago! Thanks to technology, high school students today are more empowered than ever to take on the world. They’re consuming and creating information at an unprecedented pace, building businesses, and making their voices be heard.
The nonprofit, WORDZ, was founded by a friend of mine when she was in high school. WORDZ was created and scaled because we didn’t see the opportunity to engage with our peers around topics that mattered to us, so we built the opportunity ourselves.
I was brought into the organization to build a specific event, the WORDZ Model United Nations. This event is a simulation of the UN where students role-play as country delegates. In addition to learning soft skills like public speaking and building arguments, they had to conduct research on topics that are on the UN’s agenda. It became a flagship event for WORDZ, hosting hundreds of students annually who traveled across India to attend the event.
A quote that we used liberally then, and that I ardently believe in to this day, was:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead
I’d like to think we did change the world — empowered young people to become thoughtful, committed citizens — but I know for sure that being involved as a leader in WORDZ changed my life, and not just because I married the founder 💍. Aside from the knowledge and skills I gained by running the program, the success of WORDZ Model UN has stuck with me as proof that high school students care deeply about the world they live in and aren’t just ready for these complex conversations – but desperate for them.
Edgi Learning believes that, too. Their platform facilitates biweekly discussion sessions, supported by pre-reads with engaging custom content and shared resources. All of this is enhanced by an active community for 24/7 support and conversation. Their first two programs are ‘Capitalism & the Economy’ and ‘Technology & the Future of Work’. All programs are global, with the most recent program having students from six different countries, increasing exposure to multiple perspectives. The knowledge and skills facilitated by Edgi Learning will do more than prepare high school students for college and careers; it will make them more engaged citizens of the world.
Investing in Edgi Learning is like completing the circle of life for me, personally. The love and appreciation for education that drives my work now started with organizing that event 15 years ago. So I’m beyond excited to lead Edgi Learning’s Pre-Seed round and hope to support them in furthering their mission.
That’s the magic of being a VC: being able to amplify the impact of thoughtful, committed citizens to solve problems that matter.