Silicon Valley Tried to Reinvent Schools. Now It’s Rebooting
Max Ventilla sold investors on a promise to build modern, technology-infused schools that would revolutionize education. The former Google executive convinced Mark Zuckerberg and prominent venture capitalists to commit $175 million to his startup, AltSchool. The company built at least nine grade schools in California and New York, some equipped with ceiling-mounted video cameras, an abundance of computers, custom apps, robots and 3D printers.
But five years after opening, the for-profit venture has yet to solve a basic business equation. Despite charging about $30,000 for tuition, AltSchool’s losses are piling up as it spends at a pace of about $40 million per year. The San Francisco company is now scaling back its ambitions for opening elementary schools around the U.S. and will instead close at least one location. In an interview, Ventilla said it’s all part of the plan. The startup is shifting its focus to selling technology to other schools, a business which has struggled to date but that he said has a more promising future.