The Computer Science Education Fund

I'd like to announce something that a few of us have been working on for some time now. My colleagues at The NYC Foundation For Computer Science Education and I are raising a $5mm seed fund to invest in computer science education in the NYC public school system. The Gotham Gal and I have been investing out of this fund for several years, and now we are now opening it up to others who want to participate alongside of us.

Though we call this a seed fund, and we do think of it as an investment vehicle, this is a non-profit entity, 501(c)(3), and any committments to it are tax deductible and you will not be getting any money back from us. But you will be getting karmic value in that 1.1mm kids (the largest public school system in the US) will be getting exposure to computational thinking and learning how to code.

If you, like me, had that life changing experience some time in your childhood where you entered some instructions into a screen and the machine executed them, well then you know the power of coding to make you think differently, make you think more, and endow you with superpowers that others just don't have. If you want to help me inject that experience into the NYC public school system, then think about investing in this fund alongside us.

If you want to change something as large as the NYC public school system, you need to start small but think big. We have started with a friends and family round and have some things to show for it.

Csnyc map
Now it is time for seed capital so we can replicate these programs in more schools and back new programs, like, and help them come to NYC. That's where this seed fund comes in.

Eventually, it will be time for a growth round, and that's where the large philanthropic organizations come in. If you work at or with one of them, please reach out to me and we would love to come talk to you about what we are doing.

All of this investment is leveraged by the significant investments the NYC Department of Education is making in new schools, new school leaders, new curriculum, teacher development, and over 80,000 teachers. Think about it this way. The one time investment we made to get the Academy For Software Engineering off the ground is less than 20% of the annual operating budget of that school, all of which is funded by the NYC Department of Education. The power of public/private partnerships is that private capital can fund new things, that when they work can be scaled by public investment. That's what we are doing here.

On November 18th, we are hosting an event at USV where we will talk in more detail about how we intend to invest this $5mm fund. It will be 6pm to 8pm in the USV Event Space. Because we can only fit about 60-70 people in that space, attendance is limited to those who can make a $5,000 investment or more. If you would like to come, please RSVP here.

We will be doing a crowfunding campaign so that everyone can participate in this fund. I plan to announce that next week so stay tuned.

There will also be opportunities for everyone to volunteer time instead of money. We are already seeing the power of that in action and I am incredibly grateful to everyone who is taking time out of their day to go into schools and teach kids to code.

I got to this place initially out of self interest (how to get more coders for our portfolio companies in NYC?), but it quickly became about way more than that. When you walk into a school and see kids from neighborhoods like Brownsville and the South Bronx sitting in front of laptops and making software using modern tools like Ruby On Rails, Github, and StackOverflow, you see a pathway for them and for our city and for our country to change what ails us. This is about that. I hope you will join us in this effort.

#hacking education#NYC

Comments (Archived):

  1. Dave W Baldwin

    Well written and good luck. I think you’ll make it.

  2. Tom Labus

    Why doesn’t the school system itself do this?

    1. fredwilson

      so many reasonslet’s start with they don’t really know how tothen they have higher priorities, like closing or turning around problem schools and adapting to the common core and doing evaluations around that and there isn’t even a certification for CS teachers in NY State so there isn’t the talent pool to do this inside their system. it has to come from the outside initially.but instead of going on and on about the reasons, think of it like this. Why doesn’t Nokia build a smartphone like the iPhone? why doesn’t VISA build an API like Stripe? why doesn’t Marriott do Airbnb?innovation is best done at small scale by an outsider and then delivered into the market where the large incumbents can react to it and adopt it

      1. takingpitches

        Great last sentence capturing innovation, although I would add those incumbents often try to snuff it out too

      2. panterosa,

        “innovation is best done at small scale by an outsider and then delivered into the market where the large incumbents can react to it and adopt it”my quote of the day

      3. jason wright

        “Why doesn’t Nokia build a smartphone like the iPhone?”Samsung tried that.most ‘systems’ evolve to see anything coming from the outside as a threat.i guess networks are different. perhaps schools need re engineering to become networks.

      4. LE

        Incumbents are busy. If you’ve ever run a business where you wear many hats you will see that you can have a million ideas but by the time you are done dealing with the daily bs you have little energy to be creative or try new things. (By the afternoon).New blood brought into a business is merely someone who doesn’t have existing job duties or responsibilities and can focus solely on the next thing.I think it also goes without saying that any large organization that appears to be “asleep at the switch” and ignoring what appear (after the fact) to be obvious opportunities is also passing on many more opportunities that never pan out. But you don’t hear about those you only hear about the one that got away. (Forgetting even cannibalization or the innovators dilemma etc.)The innovation done at a small scale is actually many people trying to do much shit. If a bunch of sperm try to get to an egg some of them will get there and you have pregnancy. That’s the reason it works because it’s a numbers game. An existing business can’t as easily follow the same path because there is a much greater cost and risk for an existing company trying to operate like a startup (taking labor as just one example).

      5. Matt Candler

        I’d argue that the NYC iZone experiments underway are worth watching. They’re running challenges for developers and embedding start-ups in actual schools to understand their users before/as they build solutions to real school needs. Way ahead of most districts. http://www.innovatenycschoo

    2. laurie kalmanson

      maybe now led by this shining example they will …

    3. Matt Zagaja

      I took AP Computer Science in high school in Connecticut. It was taught by a Physics professor who generously volunteered to teach the class to me and four friends who basically begged him to do it. It was one of my favorite classes, so kudos to Fred for doing this.In my town the school system was generally not equipped for CS related education. Most of the teachers do not have the appropriate background, and even with students that might be interested in technology, many do not extend that interest to coding. They’ll offer classes on things like Microsoft Office but not Ruby on Rails or networking.Also students (or more precisely their parents) are concerned with getting their children into college and so you have to fit in advanced math, physics, spanish, and other things that admissions offices expect. I think it’s good to have CS in high schools to stimulate interest, but most students are still working on the STEM fundamentals.

  3. pointsnfigures

    Great cause. And, great long range planning for the tech community of New York. Any kid that is successful will probably stay there and try to create something great. If I was a New Yorker that donated big bucks to the opera, I’d be better served by donating big bucks to this. It’s not that the opera isn’t important-but by investing in the health of my community I create more value than by sending it to the opera. More people in burgeoning start up communities across the US need to look at startup investment this way.

    1. awaldstein

      Certain that you are correct of course and i agree.Charities are communities here as well as everywhere and ‘giving’ is a cultural reflex amongst those that can afford to.Fred is building a community here. Long term, that is the challenge and the opportunity more than the dollars.

  4. awaldstein

    Good for you Fred!”Start small, think big” is a tshirt that could really be a tattoo you could wear forever.

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, i liked that line the minute i wrote it

      1. awaldstein

        btw–been fun watching soon as it stopped being a curation tool for links and started being an idea type wall for conversation, it started to gel for me.

        1. fredwilson

          i will email you and Nick so we can take this convo off disqusthat sounds like a bug and we need to fix it

      2. Tom Foremski

        Start local, go global. If it works in your communities it could work everywhere else too. Also, the next big ideas will come from dense urban centers where kids and their families are dealing with common problems and by being able to code they’ll be able to quickly throw together some great ideas.Silicon Valley techies sit inside their gilded cages, being fed gourmet meals and they don’t interact at all with with their communities. Not many great ideas can emerge when they don’t emerge that’s why there’s so many To Do lists and email management apps.You and your investment colleagues should be able to reap a gold mine from the deal flow that this venture will catapult into action. There’s bound to be some wonderful Black Swan startups that’ll grow from the ugly ducklings of New York’s public schools… Again, Silicon Valley only funds a meritocracy of male Ivy Leaguers, all have the same experiences and think the same, which is not a formula for generating successful startups.There’s been obvious low-hanging fruit to exploit with software/web apps, and the next generation of opportunities will be more domain specific, and that means knowing your domain. Urban cultures have many domains and some are common to all other urban centers.Good luck with the venture and I hope it inspires many other copycats in other regions!

      3. LE

        The following trademarks exist:1) Think Big. Start Small. Move Fast (pending)2) Think Big. Start Small. Scale Fast (Registered 7/2007)

    2. laurie kalmanson

      sell it at the school stores; logo for the program

  5. Rohan

    May the force be with you

  6. LIAD

    be super-cool.hire a larger event space and invite everyone who contributes irrespective of investment size.

    1. fredwilson

      we will do that. but the reality of philanthropic fundraising is that 10 people will contribute 80% of the money, another 50 will contribute another 15%, and the crowd will contribute 5%.we are going to offer all approaches and we will do an event where every donor can comebut i am kicking this off with a smaller event to get the 60 people who will fund 95% of this to start

      1. jason wright

        have a live feed of the event over the web and reach a larger an outsider looking in i think i see a stark contrast between the behavior of wealthy americans and the behavior of wealthy brits in this regard. philanthropy has seemingly become almost a dirty word over here. i think there was a time long ago, during the victorian age, when it did exist and was almost the ‘done thing’. no longer. this island has become a more selfish of luck with your initiative.

        1. laurie kalmanson

          noblesse oblige and all pip pip carry onThe Oxford English Dictionary says that the term “suggests noble ancestry constrains to honorable behavior; privilege entails to responsibility.” Being a noble meant that one had responsibilities to lead, manage and so on. One was not to simply spend one’s time in idle pursuits

          1. jason wright

            a noble principle, long since dead imho.i see Oxford (the celebrated University of) as the epicenter of a network that no longer serves the nation. it serves itself.i was a bit shocked that Michael Moritz donated such a large sum to OU. it went to fund scholarships for less wealthy students, but i feel that the net effect is to reinforce the power of the OU class.

      2. William Mougayar

        You could always stream it out either live or after the event.

        1. awaldstein

          Livestreaming social events without a formal presentation are kinda like putting a cam in a social moshpit.Not interesting to watch.You disagree?

          1. William Mougayar

            I thought there was a presentation. To answer your question, it depends on the objectives of the organizers.

          2. awaldstein

            Actually to me it depends on the context of the presentation.Fred presenting with a Q & A–maybe.A bunch of folks milling about is like watching the rain fall to me.

          3. William Mougayar

            right. we agree.

          4. panterosa,

            or paint dry?

          5. William Mougayar

            right. we agree.

          6. LE

            Not interesting to watch.Give me 4 cameramen, lights and a control room and I could make it interesting to watch. Or just edit after the fact using raw footage. (An offer made in jest obviously…but I could make it interesting to watch.)

          7. awaldstein

            That’ll happen!

        2. LE

          Going to guess that the “heavy hitters” that attend this are not going to want to be on camera. Or at least enough of them wouldn’t in order to make streaming it a non starter.

      3. Parker

        I would think that with Kickstarter, etc. you could easily see that more than 5% can (and will) come from the crowd.

        1. awaldstein

          Kickstarter to my knowledge is set up for products, not causes or funds.

          1. panterosa,

            what about @ccrystle’s BigLeap?I am competing in one of the first challenges.

          2. awaldstein

            Dunno but KS to my knowledge is not where you go to raise funds for non profit endeavors.There must be something for this I”m certain.

          3. fredwilson

            crowdrise is the kickstarter for non profit stuff. we will use them for the crowdfunded part of this.

          4. awaldstein

            Thanks….have been asked about this a bit lately.

  7. BillMcNeely

    Mt son is 8 and he has seen what I have been able to to do without coding. He is always asking to build a site to curate video he likes to watch and he wants to be an “IT guy” when he grows up. It would be awesome to have him learn to code.

  8. JimHirshfield

    I like your traction. Keep me posted and let me know if anyone else invests.

    1. fredwilson

      well played

    2. karen_e

      Jim FTW.

    3. laurie kalmanson

      the more crowded the space gets, the better

  9. panterosa,

    It’s awesome to see AFSE grow into a city wide program. And awesome to know Sarah is working on this with you – she is so perfect for it. If anyone has the expertise to push a big rock like this up the hill in this space, it is the MOUSE founder, and K-12 advisor. I am continually impressed with her laser focus and super efficiency, and that’s over the course of knowing her 40+ years very well. Bravo to you, her and the rest of the team who I’ve not met.

    1. fredwilson

      the reality is we really got going when we got Sarah involved. she is hard to stay with, she moves fast and gets stuff done.

  10. Humberto

    This is very inspiring fred. Kids are THE thing worth investing in..cheers to everyone involved.

  11. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Can hardly wait for the crowdfunder :0)

  12. laurie kalmanson

    this is the best thing ever. in for crowdfunding round. thank you. nyc public schools, represent.think about this in context of these numbers — when you do something large enough to change nyc, you change the world, today and in the future…With a July 2012 population of 8,336,697, New York is the most populous city in the United States, more than twice the size of the second largest city, Los Angeles.About 1 in every 38 people living in the United States resides in New York City.Over 3 million of New York City’s residents are foreign-born; over one-quarter arrived in 2000 or later.Nearly 2 million New Yorkers are under the age of 18.New York City has grown by over 1 million people since 1990.The 2011 median age in New York City was 35.5 years, almost two years lower than the national median.Over one-third of the population 25 and over in New York City has a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29 percent nationally.The borough of Brooklyn on its own would be the 4th largest city in the United States. Queens would also rank 4th nationally.New York City has the largest Chinese population of any city outside of Asia.More persons of West Indian ancestry live in New York City than any city outside of the West Indies.New York has the largest Puerto Rican population of any city in the world.More Dominicans live in New York than any other city in the world barring Santo Domingo.Over 2.37 million Hispanics reside in New York City, more than any other city in the United States. Were New York Hispanics a city unto themselves, they would rank 4th nationwide.The Black nonhispanic population of New York City numbered 1.88 million in 2011, more than double the count in any other U.S. city. Were this group a city in its own right it would rank 5th nationally.Almost half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home.An estimated 200 languages are spoken in New York City.

    1. fredwilson

      yup, that’s why it is such a great place to do this kind of thing

      1. Matt Candler

        Fred, thanks for doing this. hopefully – early-stage education incubator in NYC – can help some of the entrepreneurs. We’re working with the iZone in NYC now. If I wasn’t doing that, I’d absolutely invest.

  13. Tereza

    This is awesome. I assume bc it’s a 501(c)3 it is tax-deductible and open to corporate matching?

    1. Tereza

      Food for thought — October is a huge corporate giving month. Lots of giving energy inside of MSFT (e.g. divisions competing for employee giving). I know it’s happening at PWC too, a pre-holiday thing? However tmw Oct. 31 is last day. (Though corporate matching lasts all year.)Do you happen to have a donation link + EIN yet? I can set an internal nomination in motion. We have a lot of people who care about educating kids in tech here, would love to get it on radar.

    2. fredwilson

      yes. pls email me if you have thoughts. you should know that one of my very favorite CS programs that we have been working with in NYC is TEALS, which has been, until we funded them too, 100% funded by Microsoft

  14. panterosa,

    A wish of mine for the foundation’s roadmap – preschools. Kids don’t think coding is hard when it is presented like a game.Robot Turtles game (funded) and Ani-gram-it (live, not funded) on Kickstarter, GoldieBlox, are all taking a STEM (or STEAM) approach to organizing kid’s mind’s early through play into problem solving and mind organizing.Nick Kristoff wrote a few days ago that many kids in disadvantaged areas are already behind by kindergarten, and investing in early childhood ed is vital to keeping the playing field level. you want to have those HS students really sing in AFSE type programs, why not also ensure they get there?

    1. LE

      when it is presented like a gameI think you have to be a bit careful with that thinking (just to present an opposing view, not to say you are wrong).Many people who enjoy programming didn’t get involved in it because it was presented like a game or inherently fun from the get go. They got involved in it because they have a knack for it and just enjoy it period. More or less like an inveterate gambler will gamble on anything – a person who is into this stuff likes it in all shapes and sizes and under all conditions. And can deal with the frustration of not having everything be fun or work out perfectly.My point is while it is good to expose people using sugar to get them interested we shouldn’t assume that programming or CS is the thing for everyone or even most people. Or make kids feel bad for not being able to keep up with others who have the knack. (Like the way parents make many kids play musical instruments or fathers with sports.)

      1. panterosa,

        LE, kids are used to learning new things, and they like to have fun. Who knows what they can learn in that frame of mind. Why don’t we find out? I make no assumptions. Not to be slippery, but you are far more precise on this stuff than I’ll ever be.Apparently the game DragonBox teaches kids algebra in record time. Awesome! Right?

    2. fredwilson


    3. Vasudev Ram

      The LOGO programming language is good for kids (of all ages):…There are a few free and open source versions available, last time I checked. I’ve programmed in LOGO quite early in my career – for fun and learning, not for earning, and was in college then, not primary school – but it was great fun all the same, as well as educational. LOGO is sort of a stripped down version of LISP, which is one of the more powerful languages.

  15. William Mougayar

    You should add to your bio, “philanthropist”. Not that you and Joanne haven’t been doing it for a while, but the scope of your projects keeps getting bigger.I’ll be curious to find out what crowdfunding platform you’ll be using to power it. This is the future of crowdfunding for public projects. This type of approach can be replicated not just across the education vertical, but into other causes and issues that are important.

    1. Dave W Baldwin

      …or Philanthropist In Training

    2. fredwilson

      crowdrise. but we haven’t launched it yet.

  16. paulmg

    Fred, nice to see this juxtaposed to the effort of many mainstream tech companies who focus on immigration and not training/retraining. I understand they can’t take a longer term view as their needs and therefore efforts must be for the shorter term (along with their need to maximize switching costs) but as someone who works in education and (re)training big thumbs up to you & your wife.I just hope the students get the concepts and general ideas behind cs work and programming, that tools like Ruby on Rails and Github are just that, tools, I see far too many CS folks with 1995-2010 era skills who despite incredible resumes are passed over since they don’t have the “language du jour” while the industry pleads paucity of people.

    1. fredwilson

      yes, absolutely. we believe that starting with the foundational concepts is important before moving on to the tools. i was just trying to create a visual for everyone so that they might be able to imagine the sights that i have seen in person.

    2. sigmaalgebra

      > focus on immigration and not training/retrainingis not based on education, knowledge, training,skills, etc. but on just a desire for ‘indentured’workers at low pay.That the information technology job ads so commonlyask for an impossible collection of ‘skills’ is alot of foolishness and wasteful for all concerned.The classic was asking for, say, five years ofexperience with Java when Java had existed for muchless time than that.In my company I intend to train employees; I’ve donea lot of that one way and another, and intend to dowhat Richard Branson recommended at http://www.businessinsider….in Billionaire Richard Branson Says Personality Is More Important Than Skill When Hiring EmployeesGee, “personality”! See also in this thread my

  17. Joe Yevoli

    I love that final paragraph, Fred! Thanks for being open and candid about your original intentions, and your intentions going forward. It’s refreshing!Glad to see this type of initiative happening in NYC!

  18. Tracey Jackson

    We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ― Winston Churchill

    1. fredwilson

      thanks Tracy. words to live by.

  19. Tom Foremski

    Bravo! San Francisco/Silicon Valley needs to do the same with its public school system. Unless it thinks NYC kids will be heading west so why bother?

  20. ShanaC

    What about the private side.And I wish I could invest in this…I like schools…

    1. fredwilson

      many of the good ones are on this already. i have advised some of them. but i feel that the big impact is in the public schools.

  21. sigmaalgebra

    In the US economy, it has long been difficult toadvise young people how to prepare for a career.E.g., long a big theme was to get a good educationand then have a career in a large corporation.Maybe at times such careers were common in largecorporations in steel mills, steam engines forfactories, ice houses, etc., open ocean shipping,railroads, electric utilities, general contracting,radio, TV, mainframe computers, etc.But a career needs to last about 45 years, and onlya small fraction of careers in large corporationslasted that long.Now in the US due to the winding down of theindustrial revolution and heavy industry and therise of foreign competition and microprocessor basedcomputing and automation, careers of 45 years inlarge corporations are like hen’s teeth.If a person can make a fast fortune in aninformation technology startup, okay.In my case in an information technology startup, my’job’ is not really computing but some original workin applied math; the computing is routine. Thereis only a tiny fraction of entrepreneurs takingadvantage of the power of applied math to make valueout of available data.But for millions of kids, it’s not clear what theyshould do.At present, it looks to me that there’s a betterlong term career in auto repair, auto body repair,being an electrician, running an Italian red saucerestaurant, running several franchised fast foodrestaurants, running several gas stations, severalcases of big truck, little truck businesses, somecases of being a manufacturer’s representative,being a private label supplier of any of severalcategories of industrial products, etc. Heck, in myneighborhood, the guys mowing grass are drivingnice, new trucks.Why? Not much exposed to foreign competition,imported foreign workers, or automation. Powerfulforces don’t try to ‘help’ shape the market andlabor supply. Market is likely not going away.Have a geographical barrier to entry so that if dowell in a radius of 50 miles then can do well.E.g., for Amazon, just what the heck? I mean, ifI’m manufacturing widgets (although I did very muchlike ‘Back to School’), just why the heck should Ipay a nice cut to Amazon to run the consumer facingWeb site that has consumers order my widgets? Ifthere is a big logistics issue, then chat withFedEx, UPS, etc. Long ago FedEx stocked parts in awarehouse in Memphis; there’s no reason FedEx couldnot do better at storing and delivering the goodsthan Amazon, and FedEx also knows how build a userfacing Web site. So does UPS. So, I don’t seeAmazon as a good, long term play.For learning Linux, Python, RoR, no-SQL, HTML, CSS,and JavaScript, as a significant career direction,given that a career needs to last about 45 years,’I’m reticent, yes, I’m reticent’.Here’s something more promising:People and Personality 101 — The Good, the Bad, andthe Ugly.People and Personality 102 — Human MalesPeople and Personality 103 — Human FemalesPeople and Personality 104 — GroupsPeople and Personality 105 — PoliticsPeople and Personality 106 — Meeting the PublicPeople and Personality 107 — What the Pros Know butDon’t Want to Tell YouPeople and Personality 108 — Love, Home, Marriage,and Family

  22. Marci Weisler

    As both a long time NYC digital pro and a NYC public school mom, I’ve been looking at ways to get tech and STEAM (since STEM is now STEAM) into school at hyperlocal school/classroom level, even in elementary. Just heard a local pvt school is starting coding know how in K. How can I give time and get involved?

  23. Leonardo Gjoni

    Fred, what you’re doing is really important and helpful. It means a lot especially since I’m from the Bronx and went to a public school. The biggest issue for me is that these kids live in environments where if you don’t have a pair of Jordans or Nike’s on your feet you get ridiculed by other kids. That’s where my start-up comes in, I’m focused on changing the environment in urban areas and give back to communities to help better them. I don’t like do consider it a for profit or non-profit, I like the term, for purpose better. Id love to tell you more if your interested.

    1. ph ph ph ph phi unit

      Leonardo, I’d love to learn more, gotta link?

  24. nycdogooder

    Thank you Fred for making this happen. There has been a lot of chatter around this space but very few people backing it with action…..dollars. For the many organizations that have been in (and around) this space for years, it is great to see this focus on helping ALL students from the city’s most under-served neighborhoods learning valuable, immediately applicable skills.