Smart Cities: San Francisco

Blog Series, EdTech, Smart Cities, Startups / by

The Bay Area is unquestionably the world’s leading innovation hub–and that includes learning. Ten years ago it was all about Silicon Valley, but recently Oakland emerged as an edreform hotspot. The innovation center of gravity has definitely moved north in the Bay Area as San Francisco has become home to leading investors and startups.

When General Catalyst, a venture capital firm, was considering new Bay Area office space they compiled a list of angel and venture backed companies and found San Francisco to be the world leader with more startups than the rest of the Bay Area combined. Niko Bonatsos said, “We looked into the calendars of our west coast office team members and…65% of the people we met, live, work or were considering moving to SF.”

Startups. Mitch Kapor’s startup support is emblematic of Bay Area entrepreneurial activity.Kapor Capital (now in Oakland) has a portfolio of San Francisco startups including:

  • Chromatik : learn music together (SF & LA);
  • Clever : makes it easy for schools to bring online learning into the classroom;
  • Desmos : very cool graphic calculator;
  • Fidelis : next generation blended college for transitioning military;
  • Inkling : mobile learning content;
  • InternMatch connects students with amazing internship opportunities;
  • MindSnacks : mobile brain games;
  • Motion Math creates mobile learning games; and
  • UniversityNow is a low cost online higher education alternative.

Other Bay Area startups supported by Kapor Capital include Alltuition, PiazzaTioki,MindSnacks, Magoosh; east coast startups supported include ePals, Mytonomy, andTinyBop; and LA based Engrade.

New Schools Venture Fund , which also recently moved from SF to Oakland, invested in these local startups:

  • ClassDojo : classroom management app;
  • Gobstopper : transforming how teachers teach and students learn in the humanities;
  • Grockit : social test prep (and Learni.st, a Pinterest for learning);
  • PresenceLearning : online speech therapy; and
  • Brightbytes : data platform for K-12 schools/districts.

Other edtech startups that call San Francisco home include:

  • LearnBoost: online gradebook and other teacher classroom management tools, the CTO is a tech superstar well known in tech circles;
  • TenMarks : online math tutoring;
  • Schmoop : student study tools and teacher guides;
  • InstaGrok : learn about any topic by exploring connections;
  • Quizlet : online study tools with crazy traction;
  • Lumosity : online brain games (and TV commercials);
  • Launchpad Toys : Toontastic makes it easy to create iPad cartoons;
  • Edthena : tech-based coaching for teachers;
  • CareerEagle : video-based career prep;
  • Pathbrite : online digital portfolios backed by Rethink and ACT;
  • Fingerprint Digita l is sequence of early learning apps;
  • GoingOn : a social learning platform for 25 higher education institutions;
  • Junyo : making K-12 learning data actionable;
  • Udemy : the leading online learning marketplace;
  • Verbling : peer-to-peer language tutoring via video; and
  • Vayable : the best way to find unique travel experiences.

The last four are Learn Capital portfolio companies (where I’m a partner) along with Desmos, Chromatik, and ClassDojo.

San Francisco Investors. While outnumbered by Menlo and Palo Alto venture investors, San Francisco is home to a growing number of edtech investors:

  • Founders Fund : Knewton, Inigral, and ResearchGate;
  • Benchmark Capital : Edmodo, Grockit, the Minerva Project, and ResearchGate;
  • First Round Capital : Kno, KiwiCrate, Knewton, Remind101 and Mightybell;
  • O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures : Codecademy, Fidelis, and littlebits;
  • Catamount Ventures : Revolution Foods, PresenceLearning, TenMarks;
  • General Catalyst;
  • Maveron : Altius, CourseHero, Capella University, Cranium, General Assembly, and KidZui;
  • Catapult Ventures, part of YC VC is moving from Palo Alto to SF this year based on startup growth and recruiting young developers/talent. They are also investors in Launchpad Toys and ClassDojo;
  • 500 Startups : Kidblog, Chalkable, MindSnacks, Magoosh, Motion Math, StoryPanda, and Timbuktu (located in Mountain View, but I missed them in Silicon Valley post); and
  • General Catalyst (which may move to SF from Palo Alto): Launchpad Toys, ClassDojo, and BetterLesson.

Impact Orgs. San Francisco is home to organizations making a difference nationwide:

In the global category, San Francisco is home to these impact organizations:

SF is a leader in co-working spaces and tech training. While none are edtech specific, each has a different flavor that touches on education: the HUB (social enterprises), RocketSpace (tech entrepreneur), TechShop (“maker” DIY community), PARISOMA, and General Assembly.

Foundations and Funds. Doris & Donald Fisher Fund have been big KIPP and Charter School Growth Fund supporters. John Fisher was also instrumental in forming Silicon Schools Fund which is finding and funding next generation schools that push the boundaries of personalization through technology and blended learning. Brian Greenberg is certainly a top 10 resource in the blended space.

In the punching above their weight category, the prize goes to the Jaquelin Hume Foundation (which does most of it’s giving anonymously) and executive director Dr. Gisèle Huff. Their outsized contribution often starts with small seed investments before any other foundations will have the conversation. Gisele is an iNACOL director (with me) and Innosight Institute. She’s working with Scott Ellis to develop a Learning Accelerator which will help districts develop and adopt blended learning models

The Full Circle Fund has backed many education startups, like Khan Academy, Beyond12, Leadership Public Schools and more. Silver Giving is focused on improving education and expanding opportunities for youth. The Kapor Foundation (now in Oakland) supportsCollege Bound Brotherhood and SMASH (Summer Math and Science Honors) Academy which provides high-achieving students of color to have the opportunity to succeed in college.

Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation is a worldwide funder of of impact organizations; just a few of the U.S. organizations funded include Education Pioneers, Matchbook Learning, Students for Education Reform, Spark, and Room to Read. Along with Draper, it’s worth noting the robust social enterprise and impact investing scene in SF including Social Capital Markets, the HUB, Investors Circle, Pacific Community Ventures, and Legacy Ventures. Imprint Capital advises foundations on impact investing in education.

Watch for more from the George Lucas Educational Foundation (funder of Edutopia) after the sale of Lucas Films to Disney.

More on the San Francisco School Alliance and the school district tomorrow. Preview question: SF is clearly one of the most creative cities in the world, why is it that none of this energy and innovation makes it into SF schools?

View part two, “Smart Cities: San Francisco Schools Improving, But Impervious to Creative City Assets.”

Thanks to Audrey Watters (for investor information ) and James Ruggiero, Jessie Arora, Jason Weeby for help on this post.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is founder and CEO of Getting Smart. He is also a partner in Learn Capital and a director of iNACOL, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners, Strive for College, and Bloomboard.

1 Comments

Tom Vander Ark /

I missed InstaEDU.com which makes it possible for any students to get high quality, one-on-one tutoring the moment they need it. All the tutors on InstaEDU are either current students at, or recent graduates of top colleges. In addition to offering on-demand tutoring, we also offer the option to message with tutors and set up lessons in advance. They received $1.1M in funding lead by The Social+Capital Partnership.