America at work
‘Uber-izing’ Education? How one startup is making it happen.
Cordell Eddings | March 19, 2018

It’s no secret, childcare in the U.S. is a well-known enigma for parents and teachers alike. It’s often crippling expensive and inconvenient for parents. And paradoxically, as a teacher, it can be notoriously hard to make a decent living.

In fact, one out of every five American families spends more than a quarter of their income on childcare. And even then, it’s not typically a lucrative business for childcare providers, many of whom stop working simply because of the cost of childcare for their own kids is almost as much as what they make.

When early childhood educators leave the workforce, other parents have even fewer options. And the unfortunate cycle worsens. That trend has deepened the lack of quality and affordable childcare in America. In some cities, parents are forced join waitlists before their children are even born in order to ensure they get a spot in a good program.

That’s where Chris Bennett, the co-founder of San Francisco-based Wonderschool saw opportunity, inspired by his mother.

American French Preschool, a Wonderschool in Brentwood, California

She was the first entrepreneur he’d ever see, preparing taxes from home, among other odd jobs. And she was a lover of education.

And then he saw that same spirit in a local Miami daycare operator.

“I remember seeing her going from renting a home to owning a home to being able to put her child in private school,” he said. “She was living the American dream, which is something a lot of educators don’t get to do.”

Borrowing from the principles of the sharing economy–the thought process and technology behind successes like Airbnb and Uber–Wonderschool came up with a solution that helps ease the demand for quality childcare while helping teachers start their own business.

‘Why Can’t It Work for Preschool?’

“We’ve seen this work for companies like Uber and Airbnb. Why can’t it work for preschool?”

He realized not only is there a lot of empty space in teachers homes that isn’t being utilized everyday. But the value of amazing teachers wasn’t being fully realized.

“People who are great early educators are not typically great business people,” he said.  “When teachers negotiate with parents, they often get pummeled. They get burned. They don’t make enough money. Because of that, there is a lot of turnover. That’s where we come in.”

Wonderschool serves as a platform for qualified child-care providers to make a better income by opening their own in-home daycares or preschools. Bennett and his team help with licensing, program setup, and marketing and other administrative tasks that can bog down a provider. The startup also helps providers set a tuition rate, manage discounts, and accept government subsidies from parents who qualify.

Wonderschool CEO Chris Bennett

The benefits of in-home daycares or preschools versus traditional centers often include smaller group sizes and mixed-age groups that allow younger kids to observe and learn from older children. For many parents, it’s also reassuring to have the same person take care of their child for years, instead of transitioning to new caregivers. And if the provider needs to take time off, Wonderschool’s network help parents find backup care among its other providers.

Program directors and teachers also have access to the Wonderschool marketplace where they can also run their entire program and manage all their students and parents through a single dashboard.

Leaving an Impact

Little Seedlings Wonderschool in Inglewood, California

Wonderschool started up in 2016. Since then, 160 teachers have signed on. And he’s reaching exactly the demographic who need it. About a third of Wonderschool’s directors were stay-at-home parents before they joined the platform.  After joining most make around double what they were making before joining the platform, Bennett said.  And he hopes to continue to make a difference as the network of schools expands across the country.

It’s been a long-winding road for Bennett, who previously worked in private equity in Chicago. But ultimately he didn’t feel like he fit in, and couldn’t find anyone to mentor him. It wasn’t until he moved to San Francisco where he found a “community of support” and innovative minds that wanted to make a difference.

“It’s a lot more fun when you find yourself around like-minded individuals who are also working toward leaving the impact they want to leave.”

“My parents placed a big value on education, and worked hard to give me the tools I needed to survive,” said Bennett. “A lot of my work ethic was taught to me by teachers who really cared, and that’s what we are fostering. If it weren’t for a quality education I don’t know where I would be.”

*For more on Early Education and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Efforts, read more here.