Episode 28: Expanding Access to Early Childhood Education With Technology

Hello listeners! Welcome back to another episode of Tech Forward. This week, I spoke with Chris Bennett, co-founder and CEO of Wonderschool. Combining high quality educational standards with the warmth of in-home programs, Wonderschool is a network of boutique early childhood education programs. With the Wonderschool platform, it’s easy for teachers to start and operate these programs — and for families to find them. Chris and I discussed his journey as an entrepreneur, as well as his passion for providing families with more affordable, high-quality options for early childhood education.

Though some might hesitate to leave the stability of the financial sector for the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship, for Chris — who has many small business owners in his family — it was an easy decision. While attending the Wharton School of Business, he started his own business, but didn’t entertain the notion of continuing past graduation. After 2 years at a real estate private equity firm in Chicago, he felt the urge to return to the entrepreneurial realm. He moved to San Francisco where he met his co-founder, Arrel Gray, and they have been working together since 2011.

The impetus for Wonderschool came from Arrel’s difficulty finding high-quality childcare for his son. Chris and Arrel took inspiration from Orlando’s Tangelo Park Program, which offered free in-home childcare options for low income communities. Access to high-quality early childhood education has dramatic positive results: not only did the crime rate in Tangelo Park decrease by half, but high school graduation rates increased by 75%. Despite all the research highlighting the benefits of early childhood education, however, options remain limited. “A lot of people don’t start these out of their homes, and those who do tend to get overwhelmed quickly.” By creating a platform that makes starting, operating, and locating these programs as simple and intuitive as Airbnb, Wonderschool addresses some of the barriers preventing ECE programs from flourishing.

With upwards of 500 programs at various stages from inception to operation currently on the Wonderschool platform, the team is constantly building more tools for parents to navigate their relationship with their director. Through regular surveys of both parents and teachers, the team collects a wealth of data that enable them to provide a good experience for everyone, from teachers and directors to students and their parents.

As for advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Chris emphasizes the importance of building relationships. “A lot of critical information is locked in people’s heads — not in books. I’m constantly learning from the community here. With constant learning over time, it becomes easier to know what it takes to be successful.”

Chris, thank you so much for joining me on the show today. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Wonderschool. Thank you also to all of you out there listening, reviewing, and sharing the show. See you next week!

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