With the pandemic revealing the critical role that childcare plays in our society—and how punishing its absence is for so many families—Wonderschool has raised $25 million in a Series B round to grow and bolster its platform that enables individuals to establish childcare centers, as well as microschools, around the country.
Wonderschool’s news arrives in a world highly attuned to the challenges in childcare. People are afraid about everything from an absence of childcare to one-size-fits-all childcare and underpaid childcare workers. Wonderschool’s platform approach suggests there’s a way through the thicket of concerns that enables caring entrepreneurs to establish a variety of models for places of care.
“The pandemic hasn’t stopped,” Wonderschool founder and CEO Chris Bennett said. “There are new variants, and every time you’re out with someone you’re hearing about some random variant being created in some part of the world. So parents are more and more looking for smaller environments. Wonderschool is looking more and more obvious. We’re seeing a lot of employer interest in supporting childcare and continue to see interest from governments.”
Think of Wonderschool like an Airbnb for launching programs that range from infant and toddler programs to preschools and even microschools, which have their own dedicated team at the company. Wonderschool supports childcare and education entrepreneurs around operations, licensing, accounting, marketing, and expert and peer support to generate curriculum ideas.
The company, which was founded in 2016 and was growing quickly prior to the pandemic, has found its legs in a world in which 51% of Americans live in “childcare deserts” without an adequate supply of licensed childcare providers.
According to Bennett, revenue has grown almost seven times over the past 18 months. Wonderschool now supports nearly 1,700 programs.
The platform has been deployed statewide in New Mexico, Indiana, Nevada, and North Carolina—meaning that every center-based and home-based childcare program has access to the platform and its services. The deployment helps state policymakers see across a fragmented system of childcare providers and develop deeper insights about the gaps in childcare in their states.
States like Nevada are acting off those insights by paying Wonderschool to help spin up new home-based childcare programs in the state, Bennett said.
The governmental support of both center-based and home-based programs is important, Bennett added. Creating funding streams or regulations that exclude home-based programs, as some cities like New York City have done, is a mistake, he said.
“[Ideal are] measures that allow for both center-based and home-based,” Bennett said. “We’re big proponents of that because the center-based models have been struggling whereas home-based haven’t [during the pandemic].”
For Black families, the challenges around childcare are often more acute than for others. Black mothers, even pre-pandemic, were more likely, for example, to lack access to affordable, quality childcare and face less flexibility in their jobs.
“Even before the pandemic, the absence of quality, affordable early childcare education undermined the careers and economic mobility of many Black women, in addition to the development of their children during crucial years,” said Margaret Anadu, the Global Head of Sustainability and Impact for Goldman Sachs Asset Management. “Wonderschool is harnessing the potential of technology to provide comprehensive support to home-based care providers, enabling them to create high-quality environments while also helping parents in need of childcare solutions with an accessible marketplace.”
What’s more, Wonderschool directors earn an average of $78,000—more than twice the median salary of a preschool teacher in the US.
As Bennett told me in an interview in August 2020, one preschool teacher on the Wonderschool platform was able to earn the same salary that she earned in a year in just a month and a half by starting her own school.
To attract the talent in the teaching profession that children need to develop, this could be a game-changer.
Goldman Sachs led the round as part of its One Million Black Women initiative, a $10 billion commitment to narrow opportunity gaps for Black women over the next decade. Citi Impact Fund also joined the round, along with existing investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Uncork Capital, Unusual Ventures, Imaginable Futures, and Gaingels.
The son of immigrants from Honduras who grew up in Miami in a large family of 31 first cousins where he was the first to graduate from college, Bennett takes Wonderschool’s mission seriously. He credits his own success with having been enrolled in a great preschool program.
“It’s something I think deeply about,” he said. “You know, the mission of Wonderschool is to ensure every child gets access to the education they need to fulfill their potential. And so we are very, very committed to every child getting access, especially when I share my story.”