Washington's hottest start-ups: Edbacker

Virgin Atlantic’s Business is an Adventure event series touches down in Washington this month, with the aim of discovering how the desire to create change drives businesses to succeed. Ahead of the big day, we find out a little more about one local start-up driving change in the education sector...

Washington start-up: Edbacker

Founder: Gary Hensley

USP: Edbacker is a user-friendly online platform designed to bring parents, corporations and districts together to fill the education funding gap. Edbacker is America's first platform designed specifically for Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) and Parent-Teacher Organisations (PTOS), districts, and educational foundations - making fundraising, donor management and parent communication easier than ever before.

Here we ask CEO & founder, Gary Hensley, about Edbacker's mission and the challenges facing those in the education space.

For the uninitiated, tell us what Edbacker is all about.

Schools just aren’t as wealthy as they used to be. The reality is public schools now have to act like private schools in their fundraising and they don’t have development teams to do it. PTAs are now funding infrastructure purchases such as playground equipment, copiers, musical instruments and more.

For example, we recently announced a corporate gift from Samsung to a Title One school district in Texas that was coordinated through Edbacker. The campaign also includes an opportunity for Samsung employees to make contributions to the schools.

We officially launched the platform for the 2014-2015 school year. By the end of the second quarter of 2016 we estimate we’ll have about 1,400 schools using Edbacker and more than 120,000 parents using the platform. That’s huge growth from the start of this school year last August, when we had just 200 schools and 3,000 parents using the platform.

What are the big problems with education that still need to be solved?

This may seem self-serving, but we believe funding is the most critical issue to be solved in Education. Edbacker offers an alternative funding model for schools. When we have a successful campaign, a kid gets to do something that otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to do. When schools and parents leverage new money to help fund a coding academy this helps create opportunities for students to pursue the college or career of their choosing. Without adequate funding none of these things are possible.

Is the desire to create change a big part of the Edbacker story?

Absolutely. Education is one of those topics that everyone agrees is important. We set out to make it easy for everyone to engage with schools. Parents spend enormous amount of time and money making sure their kids have the opportunity for a great education. 

And do you feel as though the same can be said of many Washington-based businesses?

Washington is an amazing place to start a business that wants to create change in highly regulated industries. Many times it takes more that just a good idea to effect change in education, healthcare or government. You need to pay attention to the larger ecosystems and be able to navigate complex regulatory environment. Washington is great because of your proximity to agencies working in those areas and the density of human capital working to make a difference. When you can align the right stakeholders you can effect change at a national and international scale.

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