A Principal, of one kind and another

by Liam Pisano, Managing Partner

Today we are pleased to announce that Sally Sorte has joined the EduLab Capital Partners team as a Principal. That’s the formal announcement. But the journey to this moment for us was almost as interesting as her impressive and inspiring background. Sally joined EduLab Capital as a virtual summer MBA intern in June of 2020 after her first year at Harvard Business School. Her introduction to our team was a welcome respite from the tragedy of the Spring. Her resume read much like a well crafted movie script. Experience at Teach for America, Google, McKinsey, and founding her own Charter School serving underprivileged children in Denver, Colorado. Masters degrees in Public Administration and Education. Most importantly, she possessed the confidence and presence that we would expect from an HBS student, mixed in with the humility and perseverance of someone who has built a business from the ground up.

We wondered how we could effectively recruit such a perfect candidate to come work with us. In her initial interview she casually mentioned she enjoys writing about her travel. So we did our diligence and as consistent with the rest of her background, found her writing to reveal someone who is born for this industry. Her travel blogs revealed conversations with strangers, random fact finding missions and good spirit in the face of adversity that match the profile of an early stage investor to a tee. We were immediately sold.

Over the summer, in her words we promise you, she loved the team, the learning, and the opportunity to create impact in EdTech at this critical time. Because it was such a great fit and Harvard Business School was going mostly online this year, Sally decided to defer for the school year in order to continue on with EduLab Capital. To quote pretty much everyone on LinkedIn, we were “thrilled, excited and honored”.

So we’re very pleased to share her story here in her own words. 2020 has brought many unorthodox processes and journeys. We think Sally’s is quite unique, and we are very happy to be a part of it.

by Sally Sorte, Principal

This past August, as I faced the decision of whether to return to Harvard Business School for my second year and mostly Zoom classes, the choice for me was clear. Deferring the school year and continuing on with EduLab Capital would be a way to plug back into education at this critical time and continue my learning experience with this great team.

In a year, I will return to HBS, confident in their hybrid learning model and rapid-testing regimen. Right now, I have the chance to contribute to the field of education in an era of rapid transformation and contribute to EduLab at a time when the fund is establishing its track record, designing internal systems, and differentiating its identity in the VC EdTech landscape.

I love innovating and creating, it is an adrenaline-rush, especially when the outcome will positively impact others. Through my experience founding and leading a charter school in a historically disadvantaged neighborhood in Denver, I am familiar with many of the challenges that start-ups face, the importance of establishing strong systems and culture, and using data to drive strategic decision-making.

When I listen to company pitches, I think of Jonathan, Azariah, Mosi, and the hundreds of other students we worked with in Montbello. I have sat in the living rooms of their families, listening to the dreams they have for their children. I have witnessed firsthand the barriers to learning that exist in communities of poverty.

One of the things that attracted me to EduLab Capital is that I believe purpose and profit can go hand in hand, and when they do, that is the most expedient way to increase equitable access to education technologies, particularly for marginalized populations.

Whether through a democratization of college admissions essay coaching through our recent investment in Prompt or via the dissemination of social capital in higher education through our recent follow-on investment in Mentor Collective, EduLab’s portfolio of early stage learning and workforce technologies inspires hope for the future.

Another prime example of this double bottom line is Riipen. Riipen seeks to solve the chicken and the egg issue of how a college student finds their first internship (since companies prefer to hire students with experience, how do you get that first experience?). The un- and under-employment rates of recent college graduates (51% in the U.S.[1]) point to the disconnect between higher education and the workforce.

Riipen created a two-sided marketplace to match students with micro-internships embedded into their college and university course curricula. In response to Covid, Riipen effectively pivoted to micro remote internships. These internships provide a talent pipeline, trial period, and increased capacity for businesses, while giving students important hands-on learning experiences and resume fodder.

Looking ahead, Covid has not slowed down EdTech venture dollars. In fact, the sector is on track for its biggest year ever, with forecasts over $10B globally[2]. But Covid has decreased the total number of deals, particularly seed stage investments. In EdTech, we are also seeing a trend of Series A rounds growing in size. This leaves a unique opportunity for EduLab to fill the gap for early stage EdTech companies who have a proven business model, looking for capital to scale their impact. I am excited to be a part of this team at such a dynamic time.

Sally Sorte and her daughter, Olivia.

EduLab Capital Partners is a VC fund that invests in early stage, education and workforce technology companies to scale measurable impact in our communities.

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