What is the Project Literacy Lab?
The Project Literacy Lab represents the first program of its kind: an international accelerator dedicated exclusively to scaling up ventures that are positioned to close the global literacy gap by 2030. Today, 758 million people cannot read this sentence. That’s more than the population of Europe, or 1 in every 10 people in the world today. According to data released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, two-thirds of the world’s illiteracy population are women and girls. To help address these statistics, more than $120Bn is spent in development assistance annually, and still this system has yet to produce the game-changing results we all desire for the world. Something needs to change. We must experiment with new models: models that are aid-independent, highly profitable, and are positioned to scale globally. It is imperative we identify a new approach that transforms this global challenge into an unprecedented market opportunity.
The Project Literacy Lab launched its inaugural program in July of 2016 in a location just outside of San Francisco. Throughout the program, we worked to align 16 ventures with world-class mentorship, strategic financing, and access to a global network of support. The ultimate aim of the Project Literacy Lab is to rapidly scale up the benefit these ventures are can bring to ensuring universal literacy worldwide.
Why are you creating this in the first place?
We believe wholeheartedly in the premise of Project Literacy (watch this 2 minute video to see why)
. In short, we believe illiteracy is foundational to nearly all the global challenges we face today as an international community. The Project Literacy Lab was designed to bring new problem solvers to the table: entrepreneurs. The Project Literacy Lab supports solutions that are measurably putting a dent on illiteracy: market-based solutions that are locally driven, aid-independent, financially sustainable, and that have the potential to be scalable globally.
You see this as an experiment. How so?
We launched the Project Literacy Lab as a real-world experiment to better understand the impact that entrepreneurs, investors, and business can bring to closing the global literacy gap. But we recognize this was a first-of-its-kind venture. As such, it remains an experiment.
I get this is an experiment, but why an accelerator?
Through our research and experience, we have come to believe that startups have the potential to drive solutions into the hands of millions who remain illiterate today. The challenge is that while there are brilliant innovators and entrepreneurs (and many of their models are already working), to achieve greater scale they need investment, mentorship, exposure, and strategic partnerships. This is where the Project Literacy Lab comes into focus.
How are you thinking about investment?
Though both Pearson and Unreasonable have in-house investment funds and may make for ideal partners for the entrepreneurs we align with, we see it as our mission to match the entrepreneurs with strategic financing from the most active and strategic funders in the space. To this end, we hosted a private investor gathering designed to align our select companies with some of the world’s top performing investment funds and foundations interested in profitably investing into solutions that can help bend history in the right direction.
I’m an Investor. How do I best engage?
Join us on June 1st, 2017, at The Royal Institution of Great Britain, where the entrepreneurs will present on their compelling for-profit solutions in a dynamic TED-style format. You’ll hear what works, what doesn’t, and more about the critical role that entrepreneurs are playing in closing the global literacy gap. Click here for more details to register
Who is behind this program?
This program is a partnership between Pearson
(co-founders of the Project Literacy and a global learning services company) and Unreasonable Group
. To connect directly with our team, email our Global Managing Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What exactly is the Project Literacy?
Project Literacy is a global movement convened by Pearson to make significant and sustainable advances in the fight against illiteracy so that all people – regardless of geography, language, race, class, or gender – have the opportunity to fulfill their potential through the power of words.
What exactly is Unreasonable Group?
Unreasonable’s mission is to drive resources to and breakdown barriers for entrepreneurs solving the world’s most pressing global challenges (i.e. ensuring renewable energy reaches the over 1 billion people currently without electricity, reimagining the future of healthcare, or addressing the global unemployment crisis).
Through running worldwide accelerator programs, a globally oriented private equity fund, an extensive network of over 300 serial business leaders as mentors, and advanced storytelling and media activities, Unreasonable is designed to exclusively support entrepreneurs positioned to solve society’s toughest problems. The Project Literacy Lab is a perfect embodiment of the type of partnership Unreasonable Group is eager to launch, operate, and learn from. For further information about Unreasonable, please visit unreasonablegroup.com.
What are the measurable objectives of the program?
We designed the Project Literacy Lab around a desire to see measurable impact and learning across the four core themes below. As a learning organization stepping into a new frontier of entrepreneurship, financing, and development, we take a learner’s posture to everything we do. Our four objectives are:
- Increase the flow of investment dollars into solutions that are solving key challenges related to illiteracy.
- Accelerate the rapid-growth and scale of entrepreneurial solutions that are already effective and already in market.
- Spark a conversation around how business, investment, and entrepreneurial solutions across multiple sectors can contribute to ensuring universal literacy.
- See a short-term and long-term measurable impact in the tens of millions across our portfolio of select entrepreneurs.
How will you measure the impact of the program?
Below are three key measurements that we are tracking over time:
- The increase in the flow of investment dollars into the participating ventures.
- The growth (or decline) in revenue, costs, team size, customer base, and geographic expansion of each venture on a semi-annual basis.
- Each venture identified the impact they are having on illiteracy. We are tracking one metric around their impact on literacy on a quarterly basis for at minimum 5 years to gauge both the breadth and depth of their impact. (Note: because each venture is different, this core metric is unique to each participating company).
What was your process for selecting the 16 ventures?
We scoured the globe for companies we believed were best positioned to impact the lives of millions of people who are currently unable to read this sentence. We were looking for ventures that were already providing a clear and direct benefit to literacy, as well as for companies who were positioned to do so – and eager to learn how to best orient their business models around putting a dent on illiteracy.
What were the selection criteria you used?
- For-profit model: Every venture invited into the program is leveraging a for-profit business model.
- Market traction: We wanted to see a majority of selected companies have an annual revenue exceeding $500K in 2015. On average, the 16 companies earned over $900K USD in revenue in 2015.
- Highly scalable: We only invited ventures that we believe are setup to scale internationally and impact illiteracy across multiple countries.
- Commitment to literacy: The leadership of each venture needed to demonstrate to us a clear commitment to fulfilling the vision of universal literacy by 2030.
- Tracking impact: Each invited venture agreed to actively measure their impact on illiteracy on a quarterly basis for 5 years.
- Local teams: We only invited ventures where a majority of their team members live and work in the countries they operate.
Beyond basic criteria, what were you looking for?
- Logical Path to Achieving the Impossible: We invited entrepreneurs who challenged our conceptions of what we thought was possible in terms of impact, scale, business models, and growth. Simultaneously, we looked for a logical and convincing model to enter the market that matched this unguarded ambition.
- Unrelenting Dedication: We invited ventures whose leadership team demonstrated a clear conviction that they will stop at nothing to ensure they put a positive dent on history. We wanted to be convinced that the problem they are solving is baked into their DNA.
- Strong Beliefs Held Loosely: Although we were looking for entrepreneurs who are obsessed with the problems they are solving and who are very passionate about their models, approach, and technology, we wanted to also ensure that we only selected entrepreneurs who are willing to admit when they are wrong and who have the humility to be coached and mentored. We selected for a mix of confidence and humility.
- Dedication to literacy: Ultimately, the reason this program exists is to close the global literacy gap. To this end, we only invited entrepreneurs who demonstrated an unruly dedication to ending illiteracy full-stop.
What did the program cost the entrepreneurs?
The entrepreneurs are not being charged to participate in the program, and Pearson and Unreasonable Group are The entrepreneurs were not charged to participate in the program, and Pearson and Unreasonable Group don’t require an equity stake in the ventures. The goal of this program was to bring together a select portfolio of ventures positioned to ensure universal literacy, and help them scale internationally and more effectively faster. These companies were selected after over 10 months of vetting, they were privately invited, and all of their costs (including airfare) were covered by Pearson and Unreasonable Group.
Are you investing in the ventures?
Pearson and Unreasonable Group supported the ventures by paying their costs for taking part in the Project Literacy Lab. They continue to invest time and resources to accelerate the participating ventures to better position around universal literacy. However, Pearson and Unreasonable Group did not take an equity position in the Project Literacy Lab ventures as a condition or benefit of participation.
What were the exact dates of the program?
The inaugural lab ran from July 2 – July 17, 2016, with a private investor gathering on July 15. On June 1, 2017, we are following up with a global conference and gathering in London that will highlight the key takeaways and lessons learned from the first lab. Click here to learn more about the event, and register to attend.
Where was the program located?
We hosted the gathering a few hours outside of San Francisco, CA. The exact location remained private to respect the time and space of those participating in the program.