venture capital meets education

I’m a father of two young adults, and concerned about the world’s future. I’m retired from my venture firm Charles River Ventures, a top-tier early-stage venture firm, and now focus my time, energy, and money on high-potential education-related initiatives.  I spent the fall of 2012 in New York City, selected by the President to serve as part of the delegation representing the United States at the United Nations General Assembly, where I focused on education and entrepreneurship.  Now, I’m traveling way more than I ever did when I was active in venture capital.

Some six years ago, I started working on several initiatives dealing with the collision of innovation with our education system.   Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far.

I organized and funded a feature-length documentary on education that was directed by Greg Whiteley and his amazing team — Most Likely to Succeed. The film premiered at Sundance in January and has had an amazing run since.  It’s been a featured selection at more than twenty major film festivals, has been the opening night film for a half-dozen top conferences on education, and was part of a reception in November, 2015, setting up the White House Summit on Next Generation High Schools. We have an innovative distribution model for the film, encouraging schools to show the film to their community. We get hundreds of requests each week, and the film has now been screened by over 4,000 communities around the globe. Here’s how you can bring it to your school.

I co-authored a book on education with Tony Wagner, which has received strong critical acclaim.  Check out this Chicago Tribune review and order a copy.

During the 2015-2016 school year, I went to all fifty states. My goal was to bring together people in each state and encourage them to form their own modern “Committee of Ten” — and lay out the goals and objectives they have for their graduates, and support the innovations and changes needed in their schools to make these goals a reality for their students. What stunned me, though, was seeing so many innovative classrooms all across the country. I have written a new book, titled What School Could Be, about this experience, which will be published in March, 2018, and can be pre-ordered here.

I gave a TEDx Talk in Fargo, North Dakota, to an audience of 1,700. This is a concise summary of what motivates me. PBS Hawai’i did a thirty-minute Long Story, Short piece on my work, and you’ll learn quite a bit about me by watching it.

I’ve written several articles which have gotten lots of traction. Love the way social media can give an article real reach. The best include:

A Basic Flaw in the Argument Against Affirmative Action (with Linda Darling-Hammond)

Not Bill Gates (A Q&A with Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post).

The Purpose of School (Run in Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post).

Rethinking College Admissions (with Sir Ken Robinson).

I’m active on Twitter (@dintersmith) and would love it if you follow me.

I’ve had some defining experiences that have shaped my views on education. My career has been all about innovation and entrepreneurs, so I understand what our 21st Century economy will be like, and what types of capabilities will be required.  My wife, two kids, and I had a remarkable year-long trip around the world in 2007-2008 (www.dintersmith.org), and home-schooled (or maybe world-schooled) our kids during that year. And, our kids have been in several schools, with differing styles and in different parts of the country, and had some outstanding experiences as well as some clunkers.

Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.

— John W. Gardner

What I find shocking is that schools aren’t preparing our kids for life in the 21st Century. Surrounded by innovation, our education system is stuck in the 19th Century. The skills and capabilities our kids need going forward are either ignored or outright trampled.  Here’s a talk presenting my views on education, and why our nation’s future depends on wholesale change in our priorities.  And here’s a much shorter talk I gave at William and Mary’s Convocation ceremony, welcoming the class of 2018 to the college.

I’m now on a mission — changing our education system so that it helps our children develop the skillsets and mindsets that will be essential to them in a world of innovation. I’m hoping to influence things nationally, but with four orders of magnitude fewer resources than the Gates Foundation. I’m supporting initiatives I feel have high potential (see Portfolio). And I’ll be bringing my film all over the nation in the fall. Stay tuned!