She had to fail first to find the winning formula!
A Black woman edtech founder attracted $12.1 million in venture capital, Forbes reports.
Joanna Smith is the CEO of AllHere, an edtech company she founded with the goal of curbing chronic absenteeism in K-12 schools. Smith first got the idea for the app while working as a school family-engagement director at Excel Academy Charter Schools in Boston. There she learned of the tedious and “reactive processes” of contacting students and parents who were at risk of being chronically absent.
Initially, Smith utilized $5,000 of her savings to create an app for school administrators that provided a collated list of at-risk students but quickly realized school staff didn’t want another to-do item on their plate, the first version “failing miserably” according to Smith. Failing fast actually worked in her favor, Smith returning to the drawing board to speak with admin who notified her that if it was going to work, she had to get to the root of who was the key stakeholder in absenteeism.
That stakeholder happened to be school superintendents, who were fiscally responsible for solving the issue. With this knowledge, Smith was able to create a platform that catered to the superintendents, using chatbots that utilize behavioral science and interactive technology to encourage attendance and engagement of students. The mobile messaging powered by the chatbots two-way text messages to families to help improve student attendance rates 24/7. The platform then uses evidence-based interventions to assist school districts with implementing outreach strategies for families, researching which interventions work best.
As a participant of Harvard’s Innovation Labs, Smith was able to get investment from Rethink Education, a VC firm that invests specifically in educational tech startups. The company gave $250,000 in 2018 and again in 2019, eventually introducing Smith to another VC that invested $100,000 in 2019.
That seed investing proved fruitful, allowing Smith to really build out her product in a way that made it invaluable during the COVID-19 crisis for educators. During the pandemic, absenteeism skyrocketed and AllHere had the perfect setting to really test their product. The number of schools using the platform during the pandemic grew more than 700% with 8,000 schools across 34 states getting the opportunity to serve more than 2 million students and families. As a result, AllHere was able to reduce chronic absenteeism by 17%- and lower-class failures by 38% while also increasing student retention.
To date, AllHere has secured an $8 million series A funding led by Spero Ventures, raising a total of $12.1 million in investment thus far. During a time where Black women have 90% less wealth than their white male counterparts and only 1.5% of all venture capital raised in the nation during 2021 went to Black and Latinx women founders, it’s a pretty impressive feat. Still there is a lot more work to do and Smith plans to keep building out her platform to tackle an issue most dear to her.
To learn more about the work of AllHere, visit their website.
Photo Courtesy of Mamadi Doumbouya/Forbes