Dell Foundation Sells Double Line Partners, Developer of Ed-Fi Technology

Dell Foundation Sells Double Line Partners, Developer of Ed-Fi Technology


The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has sold Double Line Partners, an Austin, TX-based company, to Cross Street LLC, a local private equity firm. Financial terms of the deal, first reported by the Austin Business Journal, were not disclosed.

Since 2011, the Dell Foundation has funded Double Line Partners to develop “Ed-Fi”—a set of data standards that unify student information fragmented across different sources and formats, along with toolkits for building services to leverage the data. The vision, according to the Foundation’s Chief Communication Officer, Megan Carnahan, is to “accelerate the ability of states and school districts to bring data-driven decision making to every classroom in the US and changing the way edtech vendors provide the services needed to support data initiatives in the education sector.”

Ed-Fi technology can be used to create student report dashboards that pull information such as attendance, grades and test scores from a variety of sources, even as students move between schools and districts. Pennsylvania’s Department of Education has developed an early warning system to identify students at risk of dropping out. Ed-Fi tools may also streamline or reduce the cost for schools and districts when providing mandatory reports to state and federal education agencies.

As of 2015, the Foundation has spent an estimated $200 million in data-driven education projects, including Ed-Fi.

The excitement over the possibilities enabled by standardizing how education data can be collected and shared, however, is tempered by privacy concerns. Many organizations—most notably inBloom—have stumbled under scrutiny by parents and educators over the security of sensitive data. Personal information collected through Ed-Fi tools stays within the domain of the school district or state agency.

Ed-Fi technology is currently owned by the Ed-Fi Alliance, a subsidiary nonprofit that the Foundation created in 2013 (and funds about $5 million per year). The alliance is a consortium of 26 states and more than 125 companies and organizations that use Ed-Fi standards and technology. Double Line Partners, which led the development of framework, is also a member—a role that ultimately created complications. For the Foundation, attempting to grow a competitive market for Ed-Fi service providers—some of which may compete with one another for business—while owning one of the horses in the race, raised questions over possible conflicts of interest.

Districts can license Ed-Fi technology for free, although actually using it—which can require new tools—comes with implementation costs. Each state or district may want to build different services depending on its reporting needs and capabilities. Double Line Partners has helped Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania implement and develop various tools based on Ed-Fi standards.

Selling Double Line Partners may have been a painful but necessary move. “If the Dell Foundation is funding the Ed-Fi Alliance and wants to move the market by encouraging more supply and demand for services, it’s hard to do so when you own the number one supplier,” says Bruce Umpstead, an independent consultant who earlier this year was contracted to run business development efforts at Double Line Partners.

Of Double Line’s estimated $20 million in revenue in 2014, a significant portion came from implementation projects supported by the Foundation.

Through its work with districts and states, Double Line Partners has been “critical for serving the demand side of the market,” says Shea Clymer, Director of Marketing at the Ed-Fi Alliance. At the same time, “we’d love to see more edtech vendors offering products and services.” The Foundation’s decision to sell the company, he adds, “frees up more opportunity to level the playing field with other [Ed-Fi] implementation partners in the field.”

Zeynep Young, who founded Double Line Partners (and previously worked at the Dell Foundation) resigned from the chief executive role in August. She will serve as a founding member on the company’s Board of Advisors. Into her place steps John Sheppard, a managing member of Cross Street.

Double Line Partners “will continue to develop and enable the adoption of Ed-Fi technologies to transform data initiatives in public education, both as an important vendor and collaborator of the Dell family foundation, and overall in its work within the education sector as a whole,” according to a prepared statement. A company representative declined to disclose further details.

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