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Who Profits from EdTech? An Intersectional Feminist Analysis of Venture Capital Investment in Education

Tue, April 19, 5:00 to 6:30pm CDT (5:00 to 6:30pm CDT), Hyatt Regency - Minneapolis, Floor: 1, Lakeshore C


Drawing on a lens of critical feminist theories of intersectionality (Bacchetta 2007;
Crenshaw 1991; Davis 1981; Hill Collins 1990; Trinh 1989), this paper examines the
gendered, racialized, and classed dynamics of venture capital funding in education by
focusing on who funds educational technologies (edtech). It begins with a conceptualization of venture capital as a speculative financial practice of wealthy individuals and firms investing in for-profit companies, principally technology companies, within the global capitalist economy. VC funds mobilize capital from institutional and individual investors, known as limited partners, together with forms of authoritative knowledge and their social networks to invest in for-profit edtech companies within the global capitalist economy. As a result of their financial and organizational capacity, VC firms have the potential to significantly influence educational policy and practice in the US and around the world.

This paper situates the analysis of VC in education within an understanding of the gendered and racialized political economy of education (Ferreira da Silva 2007; Melamed, 2015; author 2018; Robinson, 2000). From this perspective, the field of education must understand, in race, gender, and class terms, who the VCs and their investors, known as limited partners (LP), are who are influencing education systems, and how, and to what extent, their actions are perpetuating and/or disrupting racialized, gendered, and classed inequality.

Venture capital is often called a “White Boys Club” due to its culture of networking and exclusive, tight knit community made up of white, upper-middle and upper class males (O’Mara, 2019). As of 2018, data shows VC firms are 82% male, 60% white male, and 40% graduated from Stanford or Harvard, with 81% of firms not having a single Black investor (Kirby, 2018). As Kapor Capital (2019) explains, “Genius is evenly distributed throughout society, regardless of race, gender or zip code—but opportunity is not” (2). This white ‘boy culture’ relies on the twin myths of meritocracy and exceptionalism (Kapor Capital 2019: 6). As Kapor Capital (2019) writes, there is a “pernicious myth of Silicon Valley exceptionalism, a self-serving narrative in which most VCs truly believe that they are only funding the best and the brightest. The sector that fancies itself a meritocracy is, in fact, a mirror-tocracy, made up largely of entrepreneurs who far too often came from the same backgrounds, attended the same schools, and were largely born with a set of privileges that are left unchallenged by a culture that lacks self-awareness” (6). This myth “actively exacerbates the problem of who gets to identify problems and come up with tech-enabled solutions” (Kapor Capital, 2019: 2).

To analyze how the racialized, gendered, classed, and educational dynamics of the VC world influence edtech, this paper draws on a mixed method approach to data analysis. It uses qualitative network analysis based on investment data in edtech from the financial database Crunchbase, open-ended interviews with VCs focused on edtech, and secondary analysis of existing data on gender, race, and education in the VC industry to examine who comprises the VC world in education (Kirby, 2018). The paper will trace which VC firms invest in which entrepreneurs and companies using social network analysis, and then work toward understanding how the demographics of VCs relate to the demographics of entrepreneurs and companies using interview and secondary data analysis.

It is important to understand how the racial, gender, and class-background of venture capital firms relates to VC investment decisions. The lack of racial, gender, class, educational and geographic diversity may influence what problems are identified, who identifies them, who receives funding to develop them, and ultimately who profits. In influencing which problems are identified, VCs hold power in determining how problems or needs are defined, which problems are perceived to be in need of solutions, which problems hold profit potential, and from where that profit potential is derived. This is significant because these edtech products are purchased by public school districts and departments of education around the world using taxpayer money, and are increasingly used by diverse students, teachers, communities, and school systems.

This paper will contribute to the field of education’s understanding of the gender, race and class dynamics of venture capital investment in education and shed light on who is profiting from edtech in the context of increasing global investment in the industry.


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