Bridge International Academies
An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets and backed by investors including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg is on a mission to bring inexpensive, private education to millions of the world's poorest children.
In rural Kenya, 6-year-old Sharon Ndunge, sitting in a rough-built classroom with chicken-coop wire for windows, a tin roof and wooden benches, is among 126,000 students enrolled at the more than 400 Bridge International Academies that have sprung up across the country since the company was founded in 2009.
Bridge's founders are challenging the long-held assumption that governments rather than companies should lead mass education programs. The company's goal is to eventually educate 10 million children and make money by expanding its standardized, Internet-based education model across Africa and Asia.
The Internet and Barnes & Noble Inc. Nook tablets are used to deliver lesson plans, which are then used by teachers. The tablets also are used to collect test results from students scattered across hundreds of towns and villages and serve as a means of monitoring their progress.
"It's like running Starbucks," said Greg Mauro, a partner at California-based venture-capital firm Learn Capital LLC, the largest shareholder in Bridge with a 15% stake, likening it to the coffee chain with standardized systems and procedures that can be replicated across new locations. If all goes to plan, the American-run, Nairobi-based education startup will seek a stock-market listing in New York in 2017, according to Mr. Mauro.
Mr. Mauro has invested alongside Microsoft co-founder Mr. Gates, e-Bay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar's Omidyar Network, textbook publisher Pearson PLC and others who already have put more than $100 million into the company, of which about 90% is equity investments, according to Bridge. Facebook Inc. co-founder Mr. Zuckerberg this month invested $10 million in the company, according to Bridge. The investment comes as the social-network company expands into emerging markets to potentially reach billions of new customers.