Sesame Ventures collaboration to back children-oriented startups

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Sesame Workshop has launched Sesame Ventures, an initiative to funnel support to promising kid-centric startups.

The nonprofit workshop, production home of public TV’s Sesame Street, is partnering with the investment firm Collaborative Fund to provide financial support to early-stage startups in education technology; social, cultural and family development; and health and nutrition.



Jeffrey Dunn, president of Sesame Workshop, said in an interview Monday that the investments are an effort “to birth companies to advance our mission of helping kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder.”

The $10 million portfolio will back between 10 and 20 projects, with the workshop and the Collaborative Fund each contributing $5 million. Dunn said the workshop is drawing on revenues from the December 2012 sale of its share in the Sprout TV network.

“When we’ve invested before, like Sprout, it was all around TV,” he said. “This is different. This is focused on digital.”

Dunn said the project will allow the workshop to “play appropriately” in the technology sphere. “We are not a tech company; we are a creative and educational company,” he said. “By partnering with people in this space and bringing the expertise we have, we can help each other.”

He envisions initiatives such as Teachers Pay Teachers, a digital marketplace where teachers share, sell and buy original educational resources, and Revolution Foods, which provides access to healthy, affordable meals, as the kind of ideas the fund will back.

In addition to financial support, startups will have access to the workshop’s research and creative resources. Tanya Haider, e.v.p for strategy, research and ventures, will oversee those collaborative efforts.

The workshop is also interested in benefiting financially. A typical venture-capital portfolio aims to earn three to five times a return on investment, Dunn said.

A statement from the Collaborative Fund said each startup could receive up to $1 million. Dunn said specific amounts will be based on need.

The Collaborative Fund will develop the pipeline and propose the projects, with the workshop providing input, Dunn said. “We get the right of approval to make sure the investments are mission-aligned and will help kids,” he said.

The life of the fund is anticipated to be seven to 10 years, with the first startups selected later this year, Dunn said.

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