News and analysis
May 28, 2015

Science-Education Nonprofit Adopts Venture-Capital Approach

Many grant makers are pushing for more science, technology, engineering, and math programs in schools. The nonprofit 100kin10, a national network created four years ago to recruit and train STEM teachers, is taking those efforts up a notch.

On Thursday, it will launch the 100kin10 Fellowship Program, a new grant-making effort designed to address a lack of engineering-related programs available to students.

"Engineering is critical in our 21st-century economy, but there’s this huge mismatch between what’s happening in K-12 schools and what our economy and society needs of its citizens and workers," said Talia Milgrom-Elcott, the 100kin10 executive director.

What makes the program unusual is its method. A little like a venture-capital approach, 100kin10 will bring together groups of grant seekers — nonprofits and individuals who want to bring more engineering teachers and programs into schools — to fine-tune their program ideas and corresponding grant proposals and provide them with an opportunity to learn from one another and outside experts.

Flipping the Model

Well before any of the participants actually files a formal grant proposal, 100kin10 will provide participants with 10 weeks of hands-on learning, technical assistance, in-person and virtual resource sharing, and peer and expert critiques and feedback.

After participants have completed the cycle, they can apply directly to the organization for a one-time grant. Ms. Milgrom-Elcott said awards will range from $25,000 for early-stage ideas to $500,000 for more complex or fully formed plans. 

"We decided we really needed to flip the [grant-making] model and not have the dollars come first and the support and learning come afterwards," said Ms. Milgrom-Elcott. "But instead bring the organizations and leaders together around a shared problem, resource them, push their thinking, and provide them with tools to approach the problem in as creative and effective a way as possible."

The program is the latest development in 100kin10’s four year effort, which started after President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released a report in 2010 calling for the recruitment and training of at least 100,000 new middle-school and high-school science, technology, engineering, and math teachers.

Heeding that call, the Carnegie Corporation of New York created 100kin10, a network of nonprofits, government agencies, corporations, individual philanthropists, and others that would work to fulfill that need.

Since then, 100kin10 has raised about $81 million from 31 supporters and partner groups that have trained at least 20,000 STEM teachers. It spun off from the Carnegie Corporation in 2014.

Seed Funding

The 100kin10 Fellowship Program was created with a $7.5-million seed grant from the New York Attorney General’s office, the bulk of a settlement with the Pearson Charitable Foundation, and $500,000 from the Simons Foundation. It is open to current 100Kin10 partners who are interested in helping to bring engineering into schools.

Ms. Milgrom-Elcott said $8 million provides enough money for the next three years of annual fellowships, and there are plans to raise more money so the efforts can be carried out through 2021, when 100kin10 hopes to have fulfilled it’s goal of training 100,000 STEM teachers.

"The underlying spirit is you’re not working on these things alone," said Ms. Milgrom-Elcott.

Send an e-mail to Maria Di Mento.