Founder’s Five is a continuing series from Tyton Partners that invites education company founders to shed light on their own success and illuminate the landscape for other education entrepreneurs and investors by answering five basic questions.
Tom Davidson co-founded EVERFI in 2008 with the belief that all students deserve to have equal access to critical skills education.
EVERFI brings innovative educational programs to underserved populations through its cloud-based technology and learning platform. Areas covered by its programs include the most challenging issues affecting society, ranging from financial wellness to mental health to workplace conduct and other critical topics. EVERFI programs are sponsored by a range of private, public, and social sector organizations and have reached more than 45 million learners globally.
The company’s groundbreaking Impact-as-a-Service™ (IaaS) platform activates community engagement at scale and delivers critical insights to corporate partners so they can measure and amplify the impact of the educational programs they are driving in support of their environmental, social and governance (ESG) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals. In 2020, the company was recognized as one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company and was featured on Fortune Magazine’s Impact 20 List.
The company was also named to the 2021 GSV EdTech 150, a list of the most transformative growth companies in digital learning. EVERFI was acquired by Blackbaud (Nasdaq: BLKB) in January 2022 for cash and stock totaling $750 million. The company is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
What is your company’s origin story?
When I was a senior at Bowdoin College, I ran for the Maine House of Representatives and served three consecutive terms. During my time in the legislature, I served as the Chairman of the Utilities and Energy Committee where I led efforts to expand the wiring of schools and libraries across the state. It was in this capacity that I discovered the powerful role the private sector could play in tackling issues affecting the public sector – specifically in schools. I traveled to schools throughout the state and [saw] students [with] varying levels of access to critical skills education. In certain zip codes students [had] access to many resources both in and outside of the classroom. In other locations there were no resources available to support the whole student. Balancing the playing field for all students served as the foundation for EVERFI. My co-founders and I wanted to create more opportunities for students in low- to moderate-income communities who require access to important life skills to gain a leg up in life and I knew the private sector could help in this mission.
How will the market be changed by your company’s success?
EVERFI has proven the important role that the private sector can play in addressing large social issues in the classroom. There is no question that mastering fundamental skills like English and Math are critical to long-term success. However, we know that students need more to benefit themselves, their families, and their communities. Understanding topics such as personal finance, mental wellness, digital safety and wellbeing, sustainability, and our healthcare system are just a few of the subjects that are instrumental in building individual and family stability for the long-term. The private sector is willing and able to invest in the communities they serve and in building their future workforce. EVERFI introduced a new business model that uses software to deploy digital education that positively impacts lives and that is fully funded by the private sector. This alleviates the financial burden on our school districts and supports teachers in their desires to help students understand these important topic areas. Organizations also benefit from seeing the impact of their investments through data and insights on knowledge gain that are available through EVERFI’s platform.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you began?
I wish in the early days I knew just how much communities and our own employees would embrace our mission and advocate for our work. This has inspired us to scale more rapidly and take on many more new content areas. At EVERFI, we show up each day to make a difference in society and we believe that education holds the greatest promise for societal change. We know now that our nation’s largest school systems and leading organizations have come to rely on us as a partner to help tackle society’s greatest challenges — and that is both a privilege and honor.
What non-intuitive insight have you gained through this work?
EVERFI was founded to give all students a leg up in life. We wanted to be sure that each student had equal access to the everyday skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. What wasn’t evident was the effect of educating one member of a family or community.
There is a meaningful ripple effect that results from educating one individual. K-12 students and adult learners have shared stories about how they take lessons learned from EVERFI education and bring it home to share with their families.
Our education often becomes part of the dinner table conversations and many benefit and take proactive actions from one learner’s experience. We also know that our curriculum can alter the trajectory of one’s life. It is not unusual for me to meet with students and hear their stories that without understanding how to finance higher education they would not have attended college. That is the power of what we bring to learners across the country each day.
What other education company besides your own do you wish you had started?
There are several important companies that are improving lives through education and technology. We have seen incredible strides in education – this was especially evident during the pandemic. What’s also exciting is that we are seeing a monumental shift in education. Never have teachers and students had access to so many resources to enhance the learning experience. Students are learning through apps, games, and via their mobile devices. We are meeting learners where they are, with the information they want and need. For the first time, learners are seeing characters in education modules that physically look like them. This alone opens so many doors that were previously closed for underrepresented communities. It is such an exciting time for the education industry, yet I believe that with AI there is so much more we will be able to accomplish within the evolving education landscape.
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