Transforming Education: An Interview with Wes Moore, CEO of BridgeEdU (Part One)
Armani Madison ’16 speaks with Wes Moore, the CEO of our company partner BridgeEdU, on Baltimore, inspiration, and the challenges that come with entrepreneurship.
What was your background prior to starting BridgeEdU?
My background is a very eclectic one. There was no smooth or simple path to founding an EdTech company. I spent time in the military, government, and finance. While I don’t think there was anything in my background there that screamed out “edtech”, there were a couple things that were being screamed at me at that time. Here are the themes which I found in my life prior to BridgeEdU, which suits the mission well:
1) The importance and universal nature of leadership. I was building things, building organizations, building teams.
2) Mission-driven leadership. I always wanted to ensure I was focused on something where it wasn’t just successful, but also meaningful. When I thought of the role I was playing in education, on the philanthropic side, on a social side, a policy side, everything started making sense.
It was a very nontraditional path in getting there, but I think everything I did prepared me for where I am now.
What inspired you to found BridgeEDU?
The big inspiration behind it was, from a personal perspective, understanding the role that education played, particularly higher education, for me, in terms of the doors it opened. It became clear to me as I developed a more global understanding of the problem that we are tackling, particularly for students from similar backgrounds as you and I—under-resourced students, first-gen, students of color, military veteran, transfer, etc.—thinking about how difficult the transition has been for them, not just in terms of matriculation, but momentum, the ability to not just enroll, but persist.
It isn’t just my hometown, but it is a place that—and I believe this to my core—you don’t understand me if you do not understand Baltimore. So much of me was built and developed from the city and by it. When I thought about a place with not only a need, but a passion for the work, and combined with a place where I want to raise my family, Baltimore made sense. That is something entrepreneurs have to consider when selecting a city to locate, as well. It isn’t just about where you will start your business, get the best tax breaks, spaces, and incubators. You also have to think from a personal perspective: is this the kind of city that I want to plant my flag in? I thought, for me, that Baltimore really fits that bill.
What is your vision for BridgeEdU and how do you see it reshaping the issues with college retention and success gaps?
I see BridgeEdU, in the next number of years, serving thousands of students across the country. More importantly, I see us helping to alter the conversation around what is happening with countless students transitioning to higher education.
When higher education was first created, it wasn’t created for everyone. It was created to serve maybe 15% of the population. It was for white, wealthy males. When we, as a country, decided to open doors,and create things like Pell Grants and G.I. Bills, we never changed the structure. The structure of higher education is the same as it was originally. Students onboard, go through orientation, stay there for four years, get a degree.
What we are simply saying is: when you have so many students who are differently prepared than the traditional population who has always been prepared to excel in higher education, you need different preparations. That is what BridgeEdU wants to offer. It is not just to change the narrative around which different preparations are needed, but we want to provide those preparations. When I think about our future, I want to systematically employ hybrid solutions to be able to address the biggest bucket issues in higher education, whether it be financial aid, emergency financing, coaching, etcetera. If there is a problem in this field, I want BridgeEdU on the forefront, solving it and scaling our solution.
What have been some of the greatest challenges you have encountered, anticipated or unanticipated, or that the company itself has encountered, in engaging in this work?
The greatest challenge is that you are constantly learning about your clients. That is true for any other business, but here, our clients are our students. The challenges our students face are not simple. For many of them, their challenges are compounded. For many of our students, there is food insecurity, housing insecurity, financing insecurity, academic preparedness., social transition issues. You cannot approach this work simply thinking that we can create one thing that will fix everything for every student. Because you are facing compounding problems, you need to develop a compounded solution set. That has been a constant tension. I do not see this tension ever disappearing, though.
For every solution you develop, a new problem will be identified. From there, it becomes a decision-making process for us, to determine which ones we will zero in on, and which issues we cannot focus on as a business/platform. That is going to always be the push-pull, ensuring the company stays focused on long-term goals and visions. While we can address problems students face, we have to always be persistent, and intentional about not getting distracted.