Giving Compass' Take:

• Education Super Highway is an example of an organization that was able to become successful because of early-stage investment from donors. 

• What are the challenges when trying to get donors to see value in an investment?  How do donors go about acting on early-stage investments? 

• Learn about early-stage funding as a nonprofit startup. 

As Education Super Highway began our journey to upgrade America’s K-12 schools, we learned early on that we needed two things to succeed. The first was significant early-stage funding, and the second was data. Why? Because early-stage organizations without sufficient capital and data lack the credibility and resources to challenge the system and lack the gravitas to be taken seriously about their solution. Data and money change that.

We learned this lesson the hard way. When we first tried to raise the problem of K-12 broadband infrastructure with federal policymakers in 2012, no one took us seriously. We were just another entity with an opinion—and no one was interested in listening. “There is no problem,” policymakers told us. “All our schools have broadband.” As an underfunded, five-person nonprofit in Silicon Valley, we had little chance of getting the federal government to pay attention to our opinion over the voices of the education policy establishment, and large telephone and cable companies.

Our data also revealed something even more important: huge variances in both the cost and speed of broadband, often among schools just a few miles apart. We created visual data maps that showed districts what schools were paying and what speed they were getting. This enabled them to negotiate more effectively with service providers and, as a result, costs went down an average of 78 percent, and we tripled the number of schools with enough Internet access for digital learning in four years.

Read the full article about impact investment by Evan Marwell at Stanford Social Innovation Review.