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Founder Insights: Getting on Board with Corporate Governance

Founder Insights: Getting on Board with Corporate Governance

Founder Insights: Getting on Board with Corporate Governance

Group shot of female founders with text #GetonBoard Week 2023 Los Angeles

As a new Chief Executive Officer, one of the many things one must think and learn about is corporate governance, the company culture that it shapes, and the confidence it can give about our company, both internally and externally. Specifically, a CEO needs to be able to form a board of directors that can help her and the company with the following: 

  • Build Reputation and Trust: Strong governance can build trust among vested parties, including employees, customers, investors, and partners. A well-formed and run board demonstrates a commitment to transparency, accountability, and ethical behavior.
  • Manage Risk: A CEO needs to be aware of potential risks associated with the business and industry. Good corporate governance practices can help identify and mitigate risks, reducing the likelihood of crises.
  • Create Shareholder Value: Proper corporate governance is often associated with better long-term performance and shareholder value. CEOs who prioritize governance can help create a more attractive investment proposition.
  • Ensure Legal and Regulatory Compliance: to ensure that the company complies with laws and regulations governing the business. Violations can lead to legal trouble, fines, and damage to the company’s reputation.
  • Inform Decision-Making and Strategy: Understanding governance structures and practices can help a CEO make informed decisions, set strategic priorities, and allocate resources more effectively.

As BenchK12 matures, takes on investors, and closes government contracts, it is critical that we create a corporate board of directors to meet all of the above needs in addition to maintaining an advisory board comprised of key partners and clients to ensure that we remain responsive to those we wish to serve with our products and services. As I begin to consider growing our board of directors, I have relied upon my previous experience as a board member of various nonprofit organizations and government agencies. However, there are differences to corporate board leadership and the first step in my journey has been—unsurprisingly—education. 

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to engage with How Women Lead—a national organization of top executive women activating individual and collective power to influence the change we want to see in the world through personal leadership, investment, and philanthropy. One of their signature events is their annual #GetOnBoard week—a weeklong hybrid summit of advocacy & action to catapult fearless women leaders into board seats. 

As part of that work, one of the opening statistics shared with us from a recent Deloitte study showed, “The global average of women on boards sits at just under 20% (19.7%), an increase of just 2.8 percentage points since the last report, published in 2019. At this pace, the world will not reach parity until at least 2045, over twenty years from now.” (Source) So, despite this work starting as an opportunity to learn more about developing BenchK12’s board, getting more women on boards—and more diversity generally—became another part of our mission. 

So, for #GetOnBoardWeek, not only did I participate in much of the virtual programming where I was able to dive into board implications for AI, planning better board meetings, understanding and forming compensation, audit, and nomination & governance committees, thinking through risk and crisis management, understanding advanced financial statements, and emerging cyber issues—this was like a mini-MBA—I also had the opportunity to co-host a reception in Los Angeles for a number of current and aspiring women board leaders featuring an illuminating conversation with current board members, Dr. Vanessa Small and Carita Walker.

GetOnBoard Week’s 2023 agenda of hybrid programming.

GetOnBoard Week’s 2023 agenda of hybrid programming. (Source)

Creating these rooms—whether in-person or virtually–is so critical to women’s leadership and the ability to create and grow truly high-performing companies. These women are outstanding leaders—period, no gendered qualifier. The wealth of knowledge that they shared and the quality of questions asked is—candidly—something that I rarely experience in co-ed rooms where women frequently feel sidelined or lack the confidence to speak in fully and freely. It reminded me of my days at Scripps College where every woman in the room was elevating one another and stepping into our power. 

Not only are events like this critical for my professional development and BenchK12’s maturation, it creates a pipeline of highly-qualified women who are ready for board leadership. We already know that more diverse boards mean better performing companies: 

  • Companies with more than 30 percent of board seats occupied by women delivered better year-over-year revenue in 11 of the top 15 S&P 500 sectors than their less-gender-diverse counterparts. 
  • Fifty-four percent of gender-diverse companies delivered positive year-over-year revenue in 2020 compared to 45 percent of the companies with lower gender diversity.
  • Companies with a director age span of less than 15 years among their directors had a decline of 7.4 percent in year-over-year revenue growth, whereas companies with a director age span of more than 30 years saw a decline of only 0.1 percent.
  • Companies with 30 percent or more board seats occupied by non-white directors performed better—with a 1 percent increase in year-over-year growth, compared to a 5.6 percent year-over-year decline among companies with less than 20 percent of board seats occupied by non-white directors.

And, while we are still a long way from parity in the boardroom, Deloitte’s recent report on diversity shows things are improving—with all women growing their representation on boards. (Source

This week of learning, events, and underlying statistics on diversity make it clear to me that as we build BenchK12’s board, prioritizing diversity—in every sense—will only make us  stronger as a company.


A Decade of Women Supporting Women: Reflections on the 2023 Women’s Venture Summit

A Decade of Women Supporting Women: Reflections on the 2023 Women’s Venture Summit

A Decade of Women Supporting Women: Reflections on the 2023 Women’s Venture Summit

Group photo featuring Vanessa Small PhD, MBA,Lindsey Head, MBA, CFO, COO, Lianè Thompson, Brooke Barrett (BenchK12 Founder and CEO) Julie Castro Abrams, and Naseem Sayani. (Credit: Women’s Venture Summit)

Pictured from left to right: Vanessa Small PhD, MBA, Lindsey Head, MBA, CFO, COO, Lianè Thompson, Brooke Barrett (BenchK12 Founder and CEO), Julie Castro Abrams, and Naseem Sayani. (Credit: Women’s Venture Summit)

I’ll admit, I was a little hesitant to attend my first Women’s Venture Summit. Though I knew I should be driving hard at our company’s raise goals, lately I had been pretty burnt out on the whole pitch scene. Instead, I had been focusing on how to make our team stronger, our product better, and how we can serve more educators and states faster. So, while the ethos of the summit was enticing, I worried about getting sidetracked from my goals for our company.

Still, I made it a priority to attend since new friends Sara Russick and Christy Johnson (shout out to the midwest!) had spoken so highly of this event and its organizers, We Are Stella led by the positive powerhouses Flossie Hall and Dr. Sylvia Mah. What I didn’t realize was that this was the ten-year anniversary of the summit, which served as an important milestone for reflection on women founders, investors, and funds.

For me, and so many other women I spoke to, this summit came right on time. Many of us shared the same exhausting and soul-crushing experiences as female founders trying to raise venture capital. Suffice to say the odds are not in our favor.

It felt nice to have one week where we were all doing a sanity check together and realizing that we are each other’s solution. And that while progress has felt slow, progress toward a better world is happening.

The women pictured with me above—and so many more who were there—are proof of that better world. (And, may I say, are all so accomplished that they are inspiring me to up my game!)

  • Vanessa Small was one of the first in the world to create a COVID-19 test. Now, she’s working on saving the planet and making sure sustainable food tastes great (my summary, not hers). She is also a board member and investor in other women-founded companies.
  • Lindsey Head is an award-winning CFO featured in Forbes and working with a variety of companies as they expand—especially women-founded companies.
  • Lianè Thompson started off her career as an award-winning international journalist and pivoted to eco-preneur gathering data on the health of our water globally with an affordable fishlike autonomous underwater vehicle. She’s bootstrapped her entire company until recently (and we discovered that a fund I invested in invested in her)!
  • Julie Castro Abrams is the tireless leader (even after knee surgery!) of How Women Lead, How Women Invest, and How Women Give —a network of over 20,000 women nationwide that provides programming and opportunities for women to join corporate boards, invest in women-founded companies, and learn more about making philanthropic investments or leading non-profit organizations.
  • Naseem Sayani is the co-founder and managing director of Emmeline Ventures, an early-stage fund investing in ambitious female founders building businesses that are helping women manage their health, build their wealth, and live in a cleaner, safer world. She serves on a number of corporate boards and has made a number of angel investments into a variety of companies that helped her grow to found Emmeline.

This slice of women is what the summit brings together. These remarkable founders, investors, and champions who all want to make the world a better place (so many mission-driven companies!) and build the kind of wealth that frees us from obligations and enables us to back more women. That energy is something you can’t bottle, but we sure need more of it!

It was a two-day packed agenda:

Women's Venture Summit Agenda

Want to learn more about women-led funds and companies? Here are some big takeaways from the summit:

  • Nearly 75% of U.S. VC firms do not have a single female investing partner. Since WVS started, there are significantly more women-run funds in venture capital, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. Women currently make up about 11% of investing partners at U.S. VC firms (Source). Initiatives like The New Table where you can find women-led funds to invest in will help.
  • Women-led companies outperform their peers.
    A study from Boston Consulting Group discovered that startups with a woman founder generated $0.78 for every dollar of funding, while male-founded startups generated only $0.31. Woman-founded startups also tend to exit faster and at higher values than less diverse teams.
  • Capital is more valuable than connections.
    Too many women-founded companies are over-mentored and under-funded. Yes, you need to invest wisely (see previous bullet) so the next time a woman comes to you with a solid business—fund or startup—write a check before you write an introductory email. Connections are valuable, but capital is still the hardest hill for women to climb. Like any other founder, we need to pay our teams and ourselves while we work on building our companies.
  • Calling out the problem brings mixed reactions.
    This is no doubt my most controversial takeaway. For so many, reading these points stirs discomfort—and not in a “we gotta fix this” way. Sometimes, exposing these imbalances motivates regressive forces. In fact, during the summit, the Fearless Fund was judicially blocked from providing $20k grants to Black Women entrepreneurs—grants which are a lifeline for Black women who get even less investment than just about all other groups. Even as I write this, Hello Alice and others who are trying to level the playing field are continuing to be attacked by those who feel like we should be happy with the scraps we have. Still, I believe that when we know better, we do better, so I’ll keep sharing the stats and beating the drum that women founders aren’t getting the support we deserve.
  • Women-led companies are men’s business.
    The 30-year average of all-female founders’ share of VC funding is 2.4%—almost identical to the share in 2018 (2.3%)—and 2022 (1.9%). (Source) In other words, investment in women-led companies hasn’t grown in proportion to women-led funds. Women can’t be the only ones investing in women-led companies—men have to believe in the power and potential of women founders.

I share these points not to discourage you, but to motivate you—as the summit did for me in so many ways. There really is so much to be hopeful about. Here are some of the very real and lasting gifts BenchK12 and I are taking away from the 2023 Summit.

  • Four new investor leads—without having to pitch. (Yet!)
  • Dozens of new women founder friends and allies!
  • Conversations that nourished my soul and gave us a second wind for 2023.
  • A 2024 goal: to win the Women’s Venture Summit Pitch competition (I avoid pitch competitions, but I wanna win this one!)

This isn’t just a recap, but your call to action—and an invitation to next year’s Women’s Venture Summit. You can already get your early-bird priced tickets here. I would especially love to see some of our many male investors and allies there; especially if you love a room full of women cheering for you! (We loudly celebrated the men who were there in support.)

And for all of my women founder and investor sisters, I can’t wait to share this room and space with you again in 2024. I look forward to celebrating our progress and continuing to lift each other up.


Supporting Innovation in the Teacher Pipeline with AAEE

Supporting Innovation in the Teacher Pipeline with AAEE

Supporting Innovation in the Teacher Pipeline with AAEE

Collaborating for change can be a powerful force in driving innovation and progress, two important factors at the core of BenchK12’s mission. This is why we have forged strategic partnerships with a variety of companies since our inception who share our mission to solve educator shortages and ensure that we do a better job of retaining educators by valuing them meaningfully.

Working together towards a common goal, while leveraging and supporting the strengths of individuals or organizations, helps us all to achieve more timely and sustainable change that may not have been possible otherwise. Too often, especially, in the private sector going-it-alone is often seen as a requirement to keep your competitive edge.

However, at BenchK12, we can only be successful as a company if we are successful in transforming the future of work for the K12 educators we seek to serve and that mission takes a village.

We are, therefore, excited to highlight our partnerships in our “Collaborating for Change” Blog Series, with the goal to raise awareness about the work we are doing with some amazing partners in education and technology.

BenchK12 and AAEE logos joined with a plus sign

American Association for Employment in Education

Our first featured partner, the American Association for Employment in Education (AAEE), is also one of our newest. BenchK12 joined forces with AAEE to sponsor their 2022-2023 Pipeline Mini-Grant Program. The program supports innovative projects aimed at addressing the K12 teacher pipeline and launched in November 2022. In February 2023, six awardees were selected — four school districts and two non-profit organizations:

School Districts

Non-Profit Organizations

The mini-grant program was open to school districts, and for the first time, non-profit organizations in the United States implementing or expanding initiatives focused on attracting and supporting more individuals into teaching careers. Each awardee received $300 to fund their submitted project along with a one-year AAEE membership valued at $220.

As the teacher shortage continues to disrupt learning nationwide, we knew this program was a worthwhile investment that aligned perfectly with BenchK12’s commitment to change the future of work for K12 educators. While times are increasingly challenging in the education sector, there are still many bright spots and working with AAEE allowed us to help shine a light on a few of them. 

These funds provide a much-needed morale, publicity, and focus to the work of the grantees. Lucy Sanchez, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Specialist and Lead Program Developer for Round Rock ISD’s project, stated “While gaining $300 more towards materials is greatly appreciated, that isn’t the true benefit of this mini grant. Getting the funds is the easiest part. The benefit of any grant is that it requires documentation and accountability. This grant, and attention we may get as a result, keeps us on track, determined, with no option to fail.”

Quote from Lucy Sanchez: The benefit of any grant is that it requires documentation and accountability. This grant, and attention we may get as a result, keeps us on track, determined, with no option to fail.

The Pipeline Mini-Grant Program demonstrates the importance of investing in education and providing opportunities for new ideas to shine — even at smaller dollar amounts, educators appreciate the support and know how to make a dollar go a long way to drive impact. 

The projects supported by this partnership have the potential to make a real difference in the lives of students and educators, while increasing awareness about the importance of recruiting and supporting diverse, high-quality teachers, and ultimately strengthening our education system for future generations.

Do you want to join BenchK12 in leveraging the power of collaboration to ensure every classroom has a great teacher who feels supported and valued? You can start by investing as little as $100 in our community round live on WeFunder now!

Meet BenchK12’s Graduate Product Fellow Carey Jackson

Meet BenchK12’s Graduate Product Fellow Carey Jackson

Meet BenchK12’s Graduate Product Fellow Carey Jackson

I’m so excited to introduce you all to Carey Jackson, BenchK12’s current Graduate Product Fellow. As I often say, her title really doesn’t do justice to the wonderful role and work Carey has contributed to our small, but growing BenchK12 team. 

We hope that we’ll be able to keep Carey on the team for some time to come. As potential investors and client-partners of BenchK12, you can help us retain Carey and hire even more great educators into our organization as we grow. It is so important to us to have educators and parents on our team because they bring such a critically important perspective and fierce urgency to our work. Carey’s additional expertise as a partner to a Diplomat has also, further, grounded our work in making sure that BenchK12 also helps State agencies solve the technology challenges inherent in reciprocity for educators who are highly mobile. 

So, before this turns into a way-too-long intro before you can *finally* get the content you came for, I introduce you to Carey– who you can also find at the ASU+GSV Summit this week in San Diego!


First things first, tell everyone a little bit about you. How would you define yourself personally and professionally? 

These days, my personal life is defined by being a mom to my three little kids – 7, 5, and 2 years old. In between dinner prepping and driving to soccer practices, I love traveling, reading, and music (I’m a violinist and singer when I get the chance). Professionally, I still define myself as a teacher, even though it’s been three years since I’ve been in the classroom full-time. I started teaching high school social studies in 2012 and adored it. I’m still actively involved in the K12 school world. My husband is a U.S. diplomat and we’re currently posted in Guatemala for his embassy assignment, where I serve on the Advisory Board of Guatemala City’s main K-12 American school.

Top three career highlights in education and/or tech: 

  1. There’s no way to choose a specific highlight from my time as an educator; the daily experience of teaching, relationship-building, and helping students understand how to play with learning were all highlights for me. 
  2. Another highlight was starting a small social studies curriculum development business almost ten years ago – it’s been extremely rewarding hearing about my ideas being implemented in tens of thousands of classrooms since then. 
  3. As for a career highlight in tech, other than working with BenchK12, I also work with another EdTech startup called Kyron Learning. Kyron is developing an AI platform to support K12 learning while maintaining a focus on empowering teacher autonomy and centering the teacher-student relationship. It’s been really interesting to be part of this work and it feels especially important to keep the educator perspective present during the current AI boom.

What made you want to do a Product Fellowship at BenchK12?

The main drivers for my current work in EdTech have been my experience as a teacher and wanting to address issues in education on a larger scale than I could from my classroom. While teaching through COVID, I became increasingly converted to the transformational possibilities EdTech holds for K12 education. I’m committed to improving the lived experiences of teachers and students in the classroom; the national teacher shortage, in particular, is the issue closest to my heart. Teachers are and always have been the beating heart of education – addressing their needs and creating rational systemic changes is one of the best ways to simultaneously improve student educational experiences. I see the EdTech field as doing some of the most innovative, implementable, and impactful work in K12 education. As an MBA student and a Partnerships Director in the MBA EdTech Community, I’ve had the chance to observe and interact with many of today’s leading EdTech companies and most interesting startups. BenchK12’s mission and product jumped out at me as important, logical, and massively scalable – I immediately wanted to get involved!

What has your experience at BenchK12 been like so far and what are some of the things you’ve worked on? 

I’ve loved being part of BenchK12! Something I really value is working with good people who are committed to social justice values. That was always a hallmark of my work experience in the teaching world, but it’s a bit less part of the culture of the MBA world. I valued that BenchK12 was a woman-founded company and that Brooke is open about intentionally creating a progressive and ethical work environment. I’ve since seen that its employees walk the walk. All of BenchK12’s employees are aligned in seeking to improve experiences and amplify voices among under-represented groups.

At BenchK12, I’ve had the chance to work on a variety of things at the intersection of product, partnerships, and strategy. I’ve contributed to research on and discussions with potential strategic partnerships with educational agencies, tech vendors, and interest-aligned organizations. I’ve also assisted in implementing integrations and designing BenchK12’s product.

When you look ahead ten years, where do you see BenchK12 headed as a company?

In ten years, I see BenchK12 serving as a credentialing platform for most certified positions in K12 education across the majority of states. BenchK12’s use case is so strong and it is implementable with such high efficiency and low cost, that I see it being adopted by states quite rapidly after our first successful pilots are completed. In ten years, I also see BenchK12 improving not just numbers of classroom educators, but also their experiences as we partner with organizations providing teacher pipeline programs, professional development, and advocacy.

What are the trends that you’re watching in K12 this year?

I (along with everyone in the EdTech world!) am very interested in the application of AI to educational technology. There are transformational possibilities in this area and we’ve only scraped the surface. As a former educator, however, I’m especially interested in making sure we tread carefully and apply a “do no harm” standard when developing AI technology to interact directly with young learners.

Another important trend this year is that EdTech companies are increasingly shifting their focus from individual consumers to contractual/enterprise partnerships with institutions and education agencies. During the pandemic, many users engaged with the K12 EdTech for the first time, largely as individuals from their homes seeking resources to meet needs on their own. We’ve probably never seen such a rapid increase in EdTech individual use, adoption, and mindset shift. With growing user familiarity and expectations, institutions are now spending more effort and dollars on establishing partnerships and contracts with EdTech companies. Specifically, within K12 education, The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund allocated 190 billion dollars to schools, the largest single federal investment in K12 education ever. Most of that money hadn’t yet been spent by the end of 2022, as schools and education agencies have been wary of the economic downturn and have been reserving their funds in case of slashed budgets. The ESSER money has an obligation deadline of September 2024, however, so I believe that in the upcoming year, K12 education agencies will be looking to partner with EdTech companies on a scale they’ve never done before.

E-Learn Podcast Featuring BenchK12: Changing K12 talent management

E-Learn Podcast Featuring BenchK12: Changing K12 talent management

E-Learn Podcast Featuring BenchK12: Changing K12 talent management

What if technology could help solve teacher shortages? That’s what BenchK12’s Founder and President, Brooke Barrett, and Makaela Kingsley, Head of Strategic Partnerships for and substitute teacher, discussed with Stephen Ladek on his eLearn Podcast

Take a listen at the link above or via YouTube. Don’t have a full 40 minutes?  Jump to a section that you want to learn more about: 

03:40 › Teacher Shortages, An American Silent Crisis—How Brooke and Makaela became aware of the depth of this crisis first-hand during the pandemic and how the situation could be solved by simply creating better systems.

09:50 ›  How BenchK12 Can Help—By allowing educators get credentials faster and why opening this critical bottleneck will change so much for so many

12:17 › Logistics and Nuances behind all of the different school systems across the US, and how Brooke and her team are able to present a solution that is compatible with them all.

17:00 › Makaela’s Experience Trying To Be Helpful—by becoming a substitute teacher for her kids’ school during the pandemic

20:26 › BenchK12′s current challenges, as a start up and the immediate next steps in its future (including a call to action for everyone to help)

We are confident that with the right technology, we can change the current course of the teacher shortage crisis nationwide. This is why our team at BenchK12, is building modern technology that leverages decades of experience in education and enterprise technology to be a part of the solution. 

Now YOU can join us by investing in our community round on Wefunder with as little as $100. Current early bird terms are closing fast, so please make your investment today. Our teachers and schools can’t wait. 

Meet Your Crowdfund Lead: Mike Baur

Meet Your Crowdfund Lead: Mike Baur

Meet Your Crowdfund Lead: Mike Baur

First things first, tell everyone a little bit about you. How would you define yourself personally and professionally? 
If someone has met me in the flesh, I’d hope a key takeaway that person would have is “Wow, that guy is passionate, investment-savvy, technologically-aware, and he authentically wants to solve big problems…particularly within Education.” As a full-time #GirlDad, I want to change the education environment my girls are learning in daily. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities that have put me in my current role, and also know  how much more work there is to do to bring effective teaching & learning practice into the modern era.   

Top three career highlights in education and tech: 

  1. Helped lead a strategic focus within Amazon Web Services’ EdTech vertical that is scaling ground-breaking technologies across the worldwide EdTech sector while improving the lives of students, teachers, and parents. 
  2. Helped invest millions of philanthropic dollars with the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation around data-driven education practices while starting several organizations and initiatives specific to addressing awareness for better “data interoperability” practice in Education Technology.
  3. Brought a major product line to market which is now used by more than 2,000 universities worldwide.

What has your career taught you about what makes a successful enterprise tech company serving the K12 market?
Relationships + Talented/Empathetic Leadership + Execution + Patient Capital = Successful EdTech company 

What are the trends that you’re watching in K12 this year?
Generative Artificial Intelligence (e.g. ChatGPT)

How did you get involved with BenchK12?
Brooke and I have known each other for years and worked together in different capacities at various organizations. I have been a big fan of her ability to “Think Big” as an educator and also seen her ability to execute with precision and quality as a consultant and educational leader. She asked me to join as an advisor on technology and sales strategy. 

Why did you decide to not only invest in BenchK12, but serve as our lead investor? 
When I saw the shocking data of what is happening with teacher and substitute shortages nationwide and how easily current technology could remedy this for the current, and arguably more importantly, next generation, the foundation of what BenchK12 is building is a no brainer. When I see the equation I laid out above coming to fruition, I not only want to invest my time, but also my own capital.

When you look ahead ten years, where do you see BenchK12 headed as a company?
The numbers don’t lie. The data is real. The total addressable market for what BenchK12 is offering to the market is incredible. Contingent the State Education Agencies involved complete their pilots and roll to production (which is moving forward rapidly!), the scope of where BenchK12 could go is quite remarkable. I can’t fathom how impactful the company will be in 10 years but I do see success to be highly probable.