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Why China is Leading Global Education Innovation: 5 Lessons I Learned with Accathon Capital in China

by Carol Barash, PhD, on Jun 13, 2019 12:00:00 PM


Carol Barash_1

My most recent trip to China, as part of Accathon Capital’s second “Innovation Journey to China,” was a defining moment both for me and for my company, Story2.

Many smaller moments and conversations make up that larger change.

“There is a community of Education innovators to tap into. I will introduce you.”
- Zoey in Beijing

I met Zoey at CKGSB Chuang Community, and she invited me to a fourth anniversary celebration at the Ed Beta Fund. Three things differentiated this party from similar events in New York, San Diego, and London: nearly everyone was bilingual; they knew, inside out, what the competition was doing around the world, not just in China. There is a commitment to education as a lever of social change that makes education an enormous business in China.

Lesson #1: When looking for education opportunities, Chinese education investors see one connected world.

“You need to get to 100M RMB with one service.”
- Chien in Shanghai

In Drunk Uncle bar, we talked for two hours about what he learned as the founder and operational partner of Embark Education, the company he grew at lightning speed and then sold. Focusing on one deliverable, including the cost of both software and human service, enabled him to grow exponentially. In the U.S. the software and service parts of Education are often severely separated, even in schools, almost as if they are opposites.

Lesson #2: Chinese educators treat software and teaching as interconnected.

“What is your dream?”
- Jerry in Hangzhou

I told my story and pitched at Zhejiang University. We were part of a Student Idea Festival, and our businesses were grilled in terms of both business value and intrinsic human value. He asked that question three times. In the moment, I completely missed that “dream” meant both vision and business model. It’s this sense of business as a lever of massive social change that drives Chinese entrepreneurs and investors. WeChat is the most obvious example. It is used by everyone for absolutely everything, giving millions of people access to banking, internet connectivity, 24/7 education and self-improvement, and more.



Lesson #3: Tight interconnection between human value and business value accelerates innovation.

“I want to show you where I studied for my GMAT.”
- Yun in Shenzhen

Yun was part of a Columbia University grad student team that first researched the China opportunity for Story2. I had not seen her since she graduated from Columbia three years ago. Yun wanted me to see the Public Library, a massive structure across from Symphony Hall. And she wanted me to know that when she arrived at 7:30 each morning, there was already a huge line of students waiting to get in. Students were packed, two to a chair, and overflowing onto the stairs. Even with people working together, the place was silent.

Lesson #4: Education takes time and work. Victory goes to people who put in the time.

“The parents are hungry for learning as well.”
- Alva in Hangzhou

Alva and I spent a lot of time together. She came for breakfast in Shenzhen, and then picked me and Anqi up at our hotel in Hangzhou and took us out for a long dinner and walk along the canal. We talked about the need for education that addresses parents as well as children, and the connection between learning in and out of school.

Carol Barash_4


Lesson #5: This attention to both parents and children as learners drives holistic, long-term, cross-generational change. This, in my experience, is quite uniquely Chinese and their biggest competitive advantage.

I came away from the trip seeing, again and again, how and why China will continue to lead in global education. The speed, the vision, the youth energy — all of this suggests that China’s leadership will continue. I’m not sure how it will ultimately play out, but it’s extremely inspiring to me as a mother, a teacher, and especially an entrepreneur.

At Story2 we teach people how to find and shape defining moments in their own lives: moments with a clear before and after. You don’t always feel it at the time, or you may feel something shifting, at first lacking words to describe what’s happening. But when something shifts, in ways that play out over time, looking back you see that there was a palpable change. This trip to China was a defining moment for me and for Story2.

China Fact Box