AMPLIFY’S LEAD BUYER turns out to be Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of the late Apple co-founder, who founded Emerson Collective (which has invested in a slew of edtech startups including AltSchool and Udacity). In addition to purchasing the beleaguered New York company, she also launched XQ: The Super School Project, a $50 million challenge to re-invent high schools (and whose ads are plastered on billboards and bus stops from San Francisco to Manhattan.)
One of the trends in our present US economy, is that high tech innovators have accumulated some huge piles of cash, and have used that capital to fund a slew of innovative programs, startups, and companies in fields as diverse as self driving electric cars, space exploration, health programs with comprehensive impact, and also educational development from hardware to software to curricula to you name it.
Perhaps this is what’s called a Plutocracy, where a small group of extremely wealthy people control a great deal of what’s going on. Generally this is considered a bad thing, because it is entirely opposed to our democratic ideals of one man one vote, and opportunities for all voices to be heard and heeded, not just those with the loudest megaphones. As well as other serious problems Plutocracies create.
But on the other side of the ledger we have tech billionaires driving innovation and at least partially doing it for humanitarian reasons, such as to make the world a better place. One of the first of these was the Bill Gates foundation, which has addressed a series of problems in the world which don’t directly benefit Microsoft, such as vaccinations for disease.
Other names we are familiar with from innovation are the Google founders, Jobs, Musk, Zuckerberg…and the list of “world bettering” projects they have been involved in is quite lengthy. Maybe Bezos from Amazon should be included, or maybe not. Who else? Some of these investments directly benefit their existing companies and strengthen market share, and some not so much.
But one has to ask where we’d be without them. Also of note is that sometimes the spouse of the billionaire gets an important role to play in the use and application of capital, such as with Bill Gates wife, Melinda.
Now along comes Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve’s heir, using her capital with Emerson Collective investments, and XQ Super School. Which one can’t help but welcome as a source of funding educational innovation. And there’s something to be said for this sort of innovation being done by the so called private sector, because we generally tend to believe it can be done faster and better by such entities.
But not always. Sometimes government is the appropriate risk taker for the first proof of concept. Sometimes there’s visionaries at our universities who manage to find ways to innovate and research and connect with all that we have learned so far to come up with solutions.