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Social Venture Fund at Ross School of Business Makes First Investment

A student-led social impact venture fund at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business has chosen for its first investment an online teaching tool designed to increase access to lessons taught by top teachers for elementary and junior high school children, the school announced this week. It marks the first-ever investment by a socially oriented student-led fund, the school boasts.

Ross’s Social Venture Fund joined a syndicate of 17 investors for a Series A round investment totaling $2.4 million in LearnZillion, a Web-based platform that gives students, teachers and parents access to a video library of high-quality, standards-based lessons taught by the nation’s top teachers.

“This investment marks an important milestone in the history of the Social Venture Fund,” Seth Greenberg, an MBA student and one of the directors of the fund, said in a statement. “We are not only making our first financial investment, but are also co-investing with well-established impact investors and venture capitalists on the deal to help LearnZillion develop and scale their business.” Other investors include O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, DC Community Ventures and Learn Capital Venture Partners.

LearnZillion, which now focuses its lessons on math in grades three through nine, will be able to bring on additional staff and accelerate content development thanks to the influx of new funding.

Ross’s Social Venture Fund, managed by Ross professor of finance Gautam Kaul along with 34 graduate and undergraduate students, makes early-stage investments of up to $200,000 in innovative, financially sustainable organizations focused on social impact. It is one of three funds run through the school’s Zell Lurie Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies.

“We hope we can act as a model that other business schools can replicate as a way for students to learn first-hand about early stage investing in socially and environmentally responsible companies,” Greenberg said.

In addition to its financial investment, the Social Venture Fund will also work together with LearnZillion to see that socially minded business metrics are met on an ongoing basis. And the company will bring a Ross intern onboard this summer as part of the Zell Lurie Institute’s summer internship program.

Eric Westendorf, co-founder of LearnZillion, praised the Social Venture Fund students’ enthusiasm and thoroughness. “They were extremely thorough in their due diligence and both the information and excitement they shared proved extremely valuable in helping to get other investors on board,” he said in a statement. “Their ongoing support will be critical as we try to create positive change in today’s education system,” he added.

For more on Ross’s Social Venture Fund, click here. To learn more about the Zell Lurie Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies, click here.

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