by Liam Pisano
As an early-stage investor, we’re often allocating capital and resources to ideas. Ideas not fully formulated at times. Sure, there may be traction in the marketplace, there may be an identifiable customer list, and there’s always a team. But it’s decidedly early stage and it’s not a growth capital scenario. Some investors know 7–8 things out of 10, and solve for the finish. We often know 2–3 things and solve for the halfway point.
Furthermore, as seed stage investors, our “sweet spot” is even less identifiable to others. In most cases this means more pipeline, which is always beneficial. The more we learn as industry specialists, the better we are at what we do, company building. Very simple concept.
Within that context, we also tend to get excited about things. It’s the future of learning and human development, if we don’t, we aren’t doing our jobs. What entrepreneurs do in our industry is remarkable and changes lives for the better. As I’ve told my 10-year-old ad nauseum, “nothing good in life was created without enthusiasm.”
That enthusiasm needs checks and balances (why we have a team), but it doesn’t need to be crushed by cynicism. Every once in a while, we meet a company that just makes sense and one that you want to see succeed because it’s what people need right now.
A few weeks ago, I sat down for lunch with Dr. Donna Housman and Jonathan Sommer, co-founders of the Housman Institute. One chopped salad with buffalo fingers later (just the right mix of right and wrong IMHO), I got that excited feeling. I also felt that others needed to know what they were doing, because it is important. So away we go with our “product review.”
The Boston-based company is focused on early childhood social emotional and cognitive learning. More on the product later, but they are focused on delivering solutions to not just children, but to educators and families as well. Their tagline reads as follows: an early childhood emotional, cognitive, and social early learning training, professional development, and curriculum organization backed by over 35 years of research and implementation.
A bit of a mouthful, but unpacking quickly: Dr. Housman, a clinical psychologist, founded the Beginnings School and Child Development Center in Weston, MA over three decades ago. Beginnings (now known as Cadence Academy) is committed to helping children aged 3 months to 6 years old, a critical time when the brain’s architecture is being informed and shaped by daily experiences, develop the building blocks of emotional intelligence, self-regulation, and empathy, which research shows is critical for healthy brain development, long term health, mental health, and success.
After selling Beginnings to Cadence before the onset of the pandemic, Housman decided that the curriculum and approach she developed while running the school needed to scale in order to benefit all children’s lives outside of the Boston area. Not only that, but it needed to be focused on helping the educators and parents who were on the front line of this battle. Hence the creation of the Housman Institute.
Their prevention/ intervention evidence-based model, and the core of the Company’s product offering, is called ECSEL (emotional cognitive social early learning) and is built upon novel techniques teaching social and emotional and cognitive competence from birth, when the brain is growing most rapidly. By Kindergarten, 90% of the brain has been developed. These techniques are focused on the development of self-regulation, emotional management, mental health, executive function, and peer interaction — skills needed for life-long learning, emotional wellbeing, satisfaction, and success.
ECSEL’s unique efficacy has been peer reviewed via research papers in international academic journals, and if this subject hits home for you, I’d highly recommend a perusal. Just a few pages in and you’ll run into the essential issue of addressing social emotional learning. As a parent who has faced these issues at home, I found myself deep down the proverbial rabbit hole, and convinced that what they were doing needed a platform.
The overused phrase for the business model perhaps applicable is “train the trainer.” Their company marketing material correctly points out that demand — and funding — for solutions supporting educator and student mental health and learning remains strong even while other pandemic-era trends in edtech recede. Regardless, it’s very clear that we need to pay more attention to this age bracket, and Housman and Sommer are on to something.
So much of what we hear about with regards to social emotional learning these days is focused on the student, and it tends to skew into grades 5–12. So what Housman and Sommer are doing is differentiated and existing solutions are not sufficient to meet the real demand.
They are at an early stage in their journey. They are in 30 schools this Fall that are piloting their training program. Dr. Housman has supplemented the rollout with the release of four children’s books that highlight strategies and solutions for parents and children. The books have been nationally recognized for their ability to help children address grief, bullying, anxiety, diversity, and emotion — emphasizing that all emotions matter, it’s what we do with them that matters most, They are building a platform, which as we know in education, takes a lot of time and effort.
As I sat through our lunch, thinking of connections to make and ways to assist their journey, I did feel as though this was a company that deserved elevation. The traditional knock on early education from a commercial standpoint is that it’s incredibly fragmented and thus difficult to sell into from a product perspective. The consequential outcome is that educators are not properly equipped and supported to transform learning for ages 0–5, and these positions experience extreme turnover.
And yet, just 10 minutes on the internet researching early learning will tell you how important these years are to a child’s development. Just like our under investment in career services for higher education is undermining the student’s “finishing kick”, we are botching their “start” of the race itself by not providing the proper support. Organizations such as Imaginable Futures and Promise Venture Studio are actively building companies in the space — but it needs more attention.
Admittedly, we are at the point of knowing 2 or 3 things about the Housman Institute’s trajectory as a platform. As an individual who understands the pain point from a personal perspective, I’m excited about what they are doing. Whether or not it’s commercially successful remains to be seen. But we are more than happy to give them some press and recognition here and help them on their way, because, well — we are enthusiastic.