Phoenix Wang, 40, wants to do for education start-ups what Sundance does for indie film: hold forums to sift out great ideas and find investors to back them. "Many educational innovations have died on the vine because there's no sufficient infrastructure between concept and commercialization," she says. The ex-Accenture consultant and iVillage strategist has snagged funding from the Hewlett Foundation (she used to work there too) and the Gates Foundation. The first forum, in March, included one not-for-profit building an app for nature lovers and another creating content-management tools for teachers.
I think a lot of times government money is about the codification of innovations—that is, institutionalizing things that already work—and they're concerned about making the existing system better. We're interested in leveraging what's coming from the outside: how technology can improve people's lives and how it can play a role in shifting the culture of education to a more learner-centric model as opposed to institutional efficiency. For example, we're less concerned about things that directly improve literacy, but more interested in saying, how do you engage kids to want to learn about literature?