Ash Kaluarachchi: Where Seasoned Leaders Mentor Emerging EdTech Innovators
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hello! My name is Spiffy, I’m an Interplanetary Journalist. I’ve been speaking with innovators from around the world who are working on UN SDG 4: Quality Education. Today I’m cruising around with Ash Kaluarachchi, CEO of StartEd | EdTech Week. Ash and his team are creating an ecosystem of passionate and informed individuals that are making waves in the field of education technology! Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome, Ash! Let’s jump right in. Can you tell me about the challenges that you’re addressing with StartEd?
Ash: I'd love to, Spiffy! Our mission is to attract and develop an army of innovators and solve problems at every stage of their journey, and ensure equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all. We achieve this mission by enabling the most seasoned and supportive leaders of the education and workforce industry to share their insight and mentorship with every education innovator—entrepreneurs, investors, educators, professionals, researchers, policy-makers, students, foundations, corporations, governments, and talent.
Spiffy: Wow, this covers a lot! Can you talk about what motivated you to hone in on education, work, and innovation?
Ash: I believe that a lack of education and lack of opportunities are the root causes of the majority of the world's problems. StartEd has created an ecosystem of passionate and informed individuals who are using technology and have an understanding of the problems that need to be solved to enhance life for others. It's my mission to remove the obstacles for this community to bring their solutions to those who need them.
Spiffy: Can you talk more about how StartEd is working to make the world more equitable?
Ash: StartEd has supported the learning needs of thousands of innovators by enabling mentorship, learning, and networking via a portfolio of programs. Our programs for early to late-stage companies help entrepreneurs find the capital, customers, and culture they need to refine and grow their impact on how students learn and how educators teach. Our mentor community—the most seasoned and supportive leaders in the industry—are provided with access to the best relevant, stage-appropriate companies around the globe. Our virtual conference—EDTECH WEEK—brings together stakeholders in the industry to set the stage for the problems we need to focus on in the immediate future and to shine a spotlight on those who are doing so currently.
Spiffy: So can you tell me about some new initiatives that you have started?
Ash: Our partnership with American Student Assistance and Jobs for the Future enabled a nationwide search for student innovators who are using technology to help their peers discover jobs, navigate post-secondary school, and enhance their entry into the workforce. The most compelling student innovators were selected, given industry-wide visibility, and mentored by the StartEd network. The winning innovators were 17-years-old and now manage a growing company supporting their peers to navigate their careers.
Spiffy: Wow! That’s amazing! Can you share about a time when you’ve faced failure and didn't give up?
Ash: Well, Spiffy, since 2015, StartEd has hosted our program in our New York, Bay Area, and Los Angeles locations. Amid the pandemic, our leadership and staff pivoted to providing learning and networking for entrepreneurs purely online. Not only did our programs maintain satisfaction levels with our community, but we were able to offer programs for founders around the world who could access our network more readily—we are now supporting over 500 founders per year. Furthermore, investors, governments, and foundations began coming to us to find compelling founders and/or provide their portfolios with powerful learning and networking programs—we now enable scholarships to EdTech entrepreneurs through these partners.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, Ash, is there anything unexpected you’ve learned from someone recently that you’d like to share with us?
Ash: My ten-month-old daughter reminds me every day that even though we miss life as we used to know it, all we really need are the people who care about us to be happy and healthy. Even as she continues to put anything she can get her hands on in her mouth, my wife reminds me that it’s the rocks and sharp things we need to worry about. Being a new parent is an exercise in understanding how little we can really expect to control.
Spiffy: That’s the truth, Ash! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your work. It’s been an honor!
Ash Kaluarachchi is CEO at StartEd, a platform that enables investment and intensive mentorship via the world’s most seasoned and supportive network of mentors and investors in education innovation. Ash has directly advised and enabled growth for more than 2,000 EdTech companies, including global EdTech unicorns, in partnership with organizations such as Techstars, Google, Amazon, Kaplan, Intel, and New York University. (Nominated by Pathway Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on October 12, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.