Pioneering Investments in the Future of Education Technology
Shauntel has been an active investor in the education technology field. She is one of the Co-Founders and General Partners at Reach Capital, a leading early-stage venture capital firm focused on the education technology investments.
Name: Shauntel Poulson
Grew up in: Colorado and North Carolina
Role: Co-Founder and General Partner, Reach Capital
Favorite Book(s): The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
Degree: Chemical Engineering
How did you get into the world of technology and / or finance?
Growing up I thoroughly enjoyed all of my math and science classes. My high school chemistry teacher inspired and encouraged me to pursue chemical engineering and I decided to follow her guidance and attend MIT.
I began my career at Procter and Gamble where I designed and developed laundry products. I have always been passionate about education so I also volunteered for an afterschool program for underserved high school students. It was while working with these students that I witnessed first hand inequity in our public education system. I decided to pursue my MBA/MA Education at Stanford to facilitate a career change to education.
Because of my technical background, I found myself drawn to identifying ways technology could be used as a lever for change in education. I was fortunate to land a role investing in early stage education technology at NewSchools Venture Fund and get a macro-level view of the industry. We recently spun out the edtech investing work to Reach Capital, where I focus on providing startup capital and support to startups focused on issues of access and opportunity in education.
Because of my technical background, I found myself drawn to identifying ways technology could be used as a lever for change in education.
Who has been your most important professional mentor and why?
I would not be where I am today without the mentorship of my partner, Jennifer Carolan. When I first started this work she took me under her wings as her apprentice. I was fortunate to learn from someone with experience in investing in education technology and experience working in schools as a former educator. She taught me how to evaluate companies and ask probing questions. She has also instilled in me the importance of providing hands-on support for our entrepreneurs and becoming a partner with them in building a successful company.
What has been the most meaningful professional experience you’ve had and why?
One of the most meaningful professional experiences I have had is making my first investment and seeing the company grow and raise their next round of funding. I can still remember the feeling of pride and joy I had when walking into their offices and seeing dozens of employees working on a product reaching millions of students. I remembered back to when I first met the founders and their company was only an idea on paper with a few wire frames. It is fulfilling to know that my work can help an entrepreneur’s vision become reality and their startup impact the lives of students, teachers, and families globally.
What is the most difficult professional or personal challenge you’ve had to overcome?
A challenging part of my work is turning down the majority of entrepreneurs I meet with. It’s always hard to say no to someone who you know has put their blood, sweat and tears into their startup. If I cannot provide funding, I provide support in other ways such as giving clear feedback and connecting the the entrepreneur to other funders and incubators. I continue to grow in this area and know that it will never be easy.
It is fulfilling to know that my work can help an entrepreneur’s vision become reality and their startup impact the lives of students, teachers, and families globally.
What advice do you have for young people of color who are looking to get into technology?
- Build a strong analytical foundation and immerse yourself in STEM courses
- Learn to code and teach someone else along the way
- Stay current on the latest technology trends and be an early adopter of products that interest you
What advice do you have for people who want to get into venture careers?
- Hone your analytical thinking and judgment skills. You can practice by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of different startups and watch to see how your predictions play out.
- Get operational experience, ideally at a startup. This will help you when you are on the other side of the table advising entrepreneurs.
- Network, network, network! Much of your success in venture will depend on the breadth and depth of your network. You will need to connect your portfolio companies to potential funders, partners, customers, new hires, etc.
At the earliest stages, ultimately the team is of utmost importance.
How would you assess the current state of the Oakland technology community?
It’s an emerging, vibrant community with established tech companies, startups, accelerators, and investors driving innovation while embracing Oakland’s rich culture and diversity. It’s great to see organizations like Kapor Center for Social Impact and Impact Hub mobilizing the Oakland technology community around social impact.
What do you look for in education technology startups?
I look for startups that are solving a pain point for educators, students, and/or families and focus on issues of access and opportunity. The solution must be scalable and show early indications of product/market fit with a growing base of active users. I am also looking for startups with a “secret sauce” around their technology, business model, or approach. At the earliest stages, ultimately the team is of utmost importance and I look for visionary, passionate, and scrappy teams that ideally have multi-disciplinary expertise in business, education, and technology.
What news outlets or media sources do you read on a regular basis?
EdSurge, Education Week, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Fast Company, Fred Wilson’s Blog, and Twitter