A December investment of more than $100,000 from NewSchools Venture Fund – an organization funded by nonprofit heavy hitters such as the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative donor-advised fund (founded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan) – has proven to be a “game-changer” for one University of Virginia Darden School of Business student’s startup education nonprofit.
Like so many startups, the idea emerged from a desire to solve a problem, long before investors or even a new venture was in the works.
First-year Darden student and 2009 UVA graduate Kimberly Diaz was working for Teach for America when she began to notice a trend: great teachers and passionate nonprofit employees – especially people of color – kept leaving, depleting the organization and the communities it served of critical talent.
As Diaz rose in Teach for America, starting after UVA as a teacher in northeast Washington, D.C., and eventually rising in the administration to managing director of programming, she was able to build her own team, and the team’s longevity began to beat the odds, with employees staying in their role well in excess of the average tenure.
“We started to talk to teachers as to why they decided to leave or stay, and so often it was about their managers,” Diaz said. “That relationship [with managers or administrators] can cause you to feel really successful and to stay in an organization or it can cause you to leave.”
Diaz, who majored in economics and psychology as an undergraduate, had applied to Darden to build on her own managerial skills. She began to formulate an idea for a venture promoting innovative manager training as a path toward healthier, sturdier and more diverse organizations.
She and her co-founder, fellow Teach for America alumnus Andrew Daub, began to ask themselves a number of questions: “How do we make management training fun, and how do we make it different, and how do we make it responsive to people from different backgrounds? What if we just train them better, and what if we train them with a lens toward diversity, inclusion and innovation?”
With a small fellowship from the New Orleans-based organization 4.0 Schools, Diaz and Daub began to formulate their plans for the education nonprofit that would come to be known as oneTILT, prototyping an organization that would develop leadership skills for diverse educational constituencies through a lens of inclusion and innovation.
“We want to make sure every school leader and every nonprofit leader, regardless of their ability to pay, can get this training so that their staff looks more representative to the communities they serve, and also so that pipelines of talent are more diverse,” Diaz said.
Diaz said they rigorously tested their methods using design-thinking protocols and began to do some initial training at a Teach for America conference. In June 2017, as their plans looked increasingly viable, Daub went to work for the venture full-time and Diaz began to prepare for Darden.
“It feels like I’m breaking down some walls and barriers, and it’s really exciting. It’s been equally exciting to prove to myself that I can do this.”
- Kimberly Diaz
The pair continued to work on the D.C.-based venture, securing their first contract with the D.C. Special Education Cooperative in October and a subsequent agreement with the national nonprofit Education Pioneers for a leadership immersion course.
With the funding from NewSchools Venture Fund, Diaz said the organization can now be deliberate and strategic about its goals and how to reach them, as opposed to living contract-to-contract in a bid to stay afloat.
It also creates an instant network among a high-impact group of education entrepreneurs and serves as a major shot of confidence.
“The money is critical, but equally important is just the validation that this matters,” Diaz said, “that I have a good idea and someone is willing to take a bet on me.”
oneTILT is developing a yearlong fellowship program, in which a cohort of managers from a single community who touch every aspect of the educational system go through a certificate program on inclusive and innovative leadership. The funding from NewSchools will help make the fellowship a reality.
Diaz partially credits the success in receiving the NewSchools investment to her first few months at Darden, where the financial skills taught in the core education experience helped inform a detailed funding application.
“I worked with Teach for America for eight years, but I never had any experience in accounting or budgeting, so my core classes have been critical,” Diaz said. “Hands down, I wouldn’t have gotten the grant if it hadn’t been for Darden.”
Diaz also credits her classmates for helping her articulate her vision and encouraging her success, whether honing pitches or offering to assist in graphic design. While the natural camaraderie of the Darden experience partially explains the assistance, Diaz said there’s a sense that the work she’s trying to do is tapping into the zeitgeist.
“When I pitch this idea to people at Darden, they say, ‘Tell me more,’” Diaz said. “This problem is not unique to the nonprofit space. Inclusion is in the public narrative right now and my classmates are aware of it, and they know it matters.”
Diaz recently secured her summer internship, and rather than working solely on oneTILT or delving further into the education space, she’s taking advantage of her time at Darden to stretch herself at Google in New York.
“I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to get some incredible experience and learn from one of the best companies in the world,” Diaz said. “I’ll be doing marketing work for them, which is perfect because it will be transferable to my own work marketing oneTILT.”
The first woman in her family to attend college, Diaz says she’s thrilled by the traction her nonprofit has received and proud to wear the title of entrepreneur, something she had until recently never imagined for herself.
“I feel like when you close your eyes and think about who an entrepreneur is, you might not picture a Latina from Jersey with a nonprofit background,” Diaz said. “It feels like I’m breaking down some walls and barriers, and it’s really exciting. It’s been equally exciting to prove to myself that I can do this.”