Literacy rates have not improved in over 15 years, costing the world $1.19 trillion a year and leaving over 750 million people worldwide unable to read this sentence, so Project Literacy Lab, a partnership between Pearson and Unreasonable Group, part of the broader Project Literacy campaign, is bringing a new group of problem solvers to the table: entrepreneurs. This first-of-its-kind international accelerator focuses on scaling up ventures that are positioned to help close the global literacy gap by 2030.
In July 2016, the inaugural Project Literacy Lab brought together 16 ventures from across five continents for a two-week accelerator outside of San Francisco, California. Over the course of this program, the entrepreneurs were matched with the resources, mentorship, access to financing, and global network of support to help them scale more rapidly across multiple regions and countries. To date, the first cohort of companies operates in over 50 countries, has collectively raised over $70 million in financing, and has reached over ten million people around the world. Within just one year after the program, the cohort’s total revenue has increased by over 80%, and total funding has increased by approximately 185%.
Last month, the second Project Literacy Lab accelerator officially launched with a new group of 13 companies at a venue near New York City. The participating mentors included Aleem Walji, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation and former chief innovation officer at the World Bank, and Tom Chi, founding team member of Google X and expert in rapid prototyping.
Each venture in the 2017 cohort is tackling one of the foundational issues that underpins the problem of illiteracy worldwide.
BeeLine Reader makes reading on screen more efficient and accessible for readers at all levels—especially for those with dyslexia, ADD, and vision problems. Instead of displaying text in monochrome, BeeLine Reader uses a subtle color gradient that draws the reader’s eyes from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. This technique can dramatically improve reading fluency and reading comprehension. To date, BeeLine Reader has been used to read over 250 million pages worldwide.
Cell-Ed brings essential literacy, language, and job skills to adults who need it most. They deliver skills training in three-minute lessons on any mobile phone, where adult learners simply call, text, or click to access a world of learning. To date, more than 10,000 Cell-Ed users have logged over 1,000,000 minutes of learning in reading and numeracy skills, vocational ESL, and more.
Kodable makes computer science education accessible to every child in the world, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic background. They develop computer science curriculum for elementary schools, with a grab-and-go lesson plan option for teachers and fun, engaging labs for students. To date, Kodable is used by over 50% of elementary schools in the U.S. and in over 200 countries around the world.
Pearson and Unreasonable Group share the belief that rapid-growth, for-profit companies have the potential to drive solutions into the hands of millions who remain illiterate today. This is where Project Literacy Lab comes into focus: connecting brilliant innovators and entrepreneurs with what they need to achieve greater scale faster.
“Project Literacy Lab aims to spark a conversation around how business investors and entrepreneurs can put a positive dent on history,” says Daniel Epstein, founder and CEO of Unreasonable Group. “Many of these entrepreneurs are already measurably closing the global literacy gap with technologies we didn’t know existed—profitably. Unlike most accelerator programs, we are choosing to align with solutions that have already proven to be effective in market. Now, we’re helping these entrepreneurs scale their ventures across countries and continents to impact hundreds of millions of lives.”
“Ensuring universal literacy means bringing new problem solvers to the table,” said Kate James, chief corporate affairs and global marketing officer for Pearson and chief spokesperson for Project Literacy. “We need everyone to work together to tackle this global crisis. With their innovative and scalable solutions, these entrepreneurs are key to how we help reach the low-income communities where illiteracy is most severe.”