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Launching Rocket Fund

The original brief

When I joined Nesta in June, I was asked to build ‘EdTech Advisor’: an online marketplace for edtech that would enable schools to purchase and use technology more effectively.

I’ve built (and watched others build) marketplaces before that have failed to take off because they didn’t solve an urgent customer need. With marketplaces, it’s really easy to see a supply side problem then build something that doesn’t actually help the buyer. So before diving into building, I suggested we do some more customer research; I wanted to understand what the barriers are to using technology in the classroom from a teacher’s perspective.

Barriers to using technology in schools

Many events, teacher interviews and school visits later, we identified seven key barriers to using technology in the classroom.

These are a lack of:

  1. Accountability: the use of tech isn’t measured
  2. Digital strategy: poor implementation and lack of leadership
  3. Budget: no money for tech, leading to the following three barriers...
  4. Infrastructure: not enough devices and/or wifi
  5. Support: no help/training on how to use tech
  6. Knowledge: low technical understanding/experience/evidence of impact
  7. Time: many teachers have an overwhelming workload

(This is just our evaluation, we’d love to hear if you agree/disagree with these in the comments section below!)

Proposed solution

After we identified the barriers, we explored potential solutions, looking at what’s working around the world and in other industries (which I’ll share in another blog). Then we came across Donors Choose, a crowdfunding platform for schools in the US that has raised $500m for 800,000 projects in the last 15 years, and is still growing rapidly. This seemed to solve one of the key barriers we had a identified (lack of budget) and suited the school culture we had observed (teachers want to be empowered to teach how they want to teach). 

Crowdfunding has particular potential for schools as it facilitates the direct engagement with funders, enabling them to select projects and beneficiaries, and enables the school to expand their community. But would this model work in the UK? Well, there was only one way to find out…

Say hello to Rocket Fund.

What is Rocket Fund?

Rocket Fund is an online fundraising platform for schools (www.rocket.fund). Our tagline is “fuelling imagination in the classroom” because that’s exactly what we want to do. We want to reduce educational inequality and empower teachers to innovate in their classroom, by enabling them to buy what they think will have the biggest impact on their class.

Why is it needed?

School budgets are a hot topic at the moment, with budgets falling by 8 per cent by 2020, the funding formula change being delayed and many schools going into debt. We think a lack of budget and the complicated purchasing process in many schools is limiting the use of innovative technologies by many teachers.

Rocket Fund is designed to empower teachers to try new things, without risking their core budget or having to go through a lengthy purchasing process.

What’s happening now?

We’ve just launched a pilot, with 10 pioneering teachers on an MVP platform we’ve built in four weeks. We're providing match-funding for the first five tech-related projects, but teachers can raise for whatever they want (current projects range from specialist silk painting classes to VR headsets and Lego Mindstorms).

Our plans for the future

If the pilot works, then we’d like to scale this project nationwide. Partnering with multiple corporates or other like-minded organisations to offer match funding and inviting teachers from across the country to join us.

Is this a replacement for state funding?

Rocket Fund enables state school teachers - whether primary or secondary - to raise money, access match funding and connect with their community for free. The platform does not aim to replace state funding of schools, but rather to empower teachers to choose and source items that their classrooms need, giving them access to extra funding to try new things without risking their core budget. 

Browse the platform, support a classroom project and share with your friends: www.rocket.fund 

(And let us know what you think in the comments below!)

Thanks,

Ben

 

Author

Ben Gill

Ben Gill

Ben Gill

Senior Programme Manager, Innovation Lab

Ben is Senior Programme Manager in the Innovation Lab's Education Team. He is currently building Rocket Fund, a crowdfunding platform for schools.

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