Amit Patel has served as the Director of Technology for Success Academy Charter Schools, a premier charter school network in New York City with 47 schools. With his experience scaling several education start-ups and in his role as Managing Director of Owl Ventures, he is deeply committed to building new organizations that will create sustainable and higher quality education solutions. In this interview, he talks about the present education landscape and the evolving needs of learners which have given way to the rise of many innovative start-ups. He further elaborates on the key attributes investors need to evaluate before collaborating with a start-up.
How do you work with the companies in which you invest? Tell us about your investment style?
At a high level, we like to be partners and collaborators with our entrepreneurs when we invest, we intend to support them in any way we can. There is no standard playbook for enterprises; we look at a company’s specific needs and adapt accordingly.
What are the key attributes you look at when evaluating an investment opportunity?
We look across the education spectrum, right from early learning to K-12, higher education, career mobility, professional learning to life-long learning. We are interested in meeting companies and entrepreneurs that have made investments across that learning spectrum. And we are also flexible and open in terms of geography. The majority of our investments may have been made in the US, India, and China.
"An important aspect that companies in the education sectors need to at look is future investments in the business and make strategic decisions to achieve their goals"
When looking at investment opportunities, given that we are early-stage investors and long term investors, we focus on three broad areas, the business fundamentals associated with a company and its teams. If the solution they offer fits the need of the market and how it would impact the learners, we want to ensure that a product fits the need of the market and is scalable to accommodate the evolving future requirements of the learners as well. This is one way companies can demonstrate that they have a deep understanding of the challenges in the education industry and how they can approach those challenges in an innovative manner.
One of the things that work to our advantage is that we are a sector-focused investor. The only thing we are invested in is the education space, we get to connect with an entire network of experts and advisors and build a relationship with people in the sector to constantly understand the gaps in the market right now and what the latest trends are as well when it comes to technology infrastructure or ideal types of solution being built. This helps us move quickly whenever it comes to evaluating companies.
During our due diligence process, we speak to the end-users or customers who are currently using the product but also some customers that have used the products in the past. This presents a holistic view of the benefits and downfalls of a company’s products. We often do a reference check on the founders and consult with sector experts so that we are not only getting a perspective from the company itself but doing our third party diligence.
How do you work with clients post-investment? How do you think your current portfolio of companies has benefited most from your guidance?
When it comes to key partnerships, we spend a significant amount of time and effort to figure out ways where we could make certain introductions or connections that can be meaningful for the companies. We help build out the team by sourcing or hiring, as a lot of the companies would need to hire leaders in the organization as well as an intuitive team of people working alongside them. An important aspect that companies in the education sector need to at look is future investments in the business and make strategic decisions to achieve their goals. One of my roles is to work with a company’s founders and to empower them to make informed decisions by leveraging large sets of data from various sources.
What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to a fellow or aspiring professional in your field who is looking to embark on a similar venture or professional journey along the lines of your service and area of expertise?
My biggest advice at the end of the day, whether to an entrepreneur or investor, would be to build real relationships. Especially in the education sector, as there are many dynamic collaborations that need to be balanced; from a teacher-learner duo to an investor-entrepreneur partnership. The other piece is that there are amazing and tremendously exciting opportunities that are available right now and will be over the next several decades to come, specifically in the education technology sector all around the world. And so if somebody is considering whether or not this would be a good career path for them, there could not be a better time than now.