The Rant

The Innovators - A Conversation with Deborah Quazzo

June 27, 2023 Eloy Oakley/Deborah Quazzo Season 1 Episode 15
The Rant
The Innovators - A Conversation with Deborah Quazzo
Show Notes Transcript

This is the fourth in a series of episodes where I interview interesting innovators that I ran into at the recent ASU + GSV Summit. In this episode I talk with Deborah Quazzo, Managing Partner at GSV Ventures and Co-founder of the ASU+GSV Summit. Deborah shares her experiences in ed tech, how her team partnered with ASU, her personal journey and she highlights the work happening with the ASU+GSV Summit in 2024 and beyond.

Eloy:

Hi, I'm Eloy Ortiz Oakley, and welcome back to the Rent the podcast where we pull back the curtain and break down the people, the policies, and the politics of our higher education system. In this episode, I finalized my conversations with key innovators that I ran into. At the recent ASU G S V Summit in San Diego, today I'm talking with Deborah Qua, managing partner at GSV Ventures and co-founder of the ASU GSV Summit. Welcome to the rant, Deborah.

Eloy & Deborah:

Thank you, Eloy. It is, delightful to be here. to

Eloy:

great to see you as well. So let's jump into some of these questions. Deborah, you are the managing partner at GSV Ventures and the co-founder of the ASU GSV Summit, which is now, I think in its 14th year.

Eloy & Deborah:

We just finished the 14th

Eloy:

finished the

Eloy & Deborah:

We got, yeah, well, COVID sort of messed us up a little bit, but we start started, we did start in 2010 and we just finished the 14th event and so next year will be our 15th event.

Eloy:

time flies.

Eloy & Deborah:

Yep. I know.

Eloy:

So for our listeners, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to your interest in education technology, and also tell us a little bit about GSV Ventures and how you wound up partnering with Michael Crow and Arizona State University to launch all of this.

Eloy & Deborah:

I, I have been working with my partner Michael Mo, in education innovation and education technology for. Frighteningly over, 25 years. And so, we're embarra, we hit 25 and we decided not to add any more years onto it. So it is over 25 now. We're just gonna go with over 25 years, until it, you know, until it gets to a hundred or something. But, so we've been working a long time in the sector, obviously way before any, what, anything material was happening as it related to the application of technology. and. And I, and we did that as investment bankers and research analysts and conveners and things and things like that over the initial period. and that's kind of how we, how we came at it initially back in 20, probably 2009 or so, Michael Mo had the incredible opportunity to join an innovation committee at Arizona State. Neither one of us had any alumni tie but he got a bit of a chance to see what Michael Crow had going on under the hood. Cause in 20. 2010, as you remember, Eloy, it would not have been an obvious choice to align yourself with Arizona State. If you were trying to say that, you know, you were, you were, you wanted to do something related to being a leader in technology and a leader at academic performance and all that sort of thing. they were the largest public university. But had yet to begin to turn over the cards in terms of what Michael Crow had going on under the hood, to, to basically transform the university into a place that was measured by the Im its impact on students. Not, not the students. They kept out, but the, but, but. Through the admissions of, of more and more students and putting those more and more students through to great, to great success. So we were very fortunate when we, when we did that partnering back in 20, you know, as the first event was 2010, so back in 2009 or whatever, whatever the original set of meetings was. Michael really at some point suggests Michael Mo suggested to Michael Pro that why don't you try to do some sort of, convening That really showcased what, what was going on in the world of education, innovation and transformation. And particularly, as it related to, the application of technology when we started asu, I think had four technology partners today they probably have 4,000. If you really, if you really got in there and tried to count them, So it was, it was a really fortuitous partnering that happened. It's been, it, you know, pretty remarkable to, to be a partner with. The largest public university in the country for 15 years and have it be so smooth. And they even joined us in partnering on a smaller event. We did this February and in in, in India because they're obviously, spreading their wings into global markets all over the world. And so it's really been terrific it's really, it's been remarkable and it's, it's given us a, it's also given us such a window. I mean, they're an innovation machine and, and, and for us to be able to you know, go on to campus. And I tell people all the time, if you've got two days to do a, to do a road trip to Arizona State and just see the kinds of innovation that's, that's happening there, on a thousand different levels, you know, I highly recommend it. It can be transformative, but, But yeah, so that was really the history. I got passionate. I was really, as an investment banker I, it became obvious to me that that, you know, the, the, the wedge of, of innovation and being able to deliver high quality education at scale, to many millions of people, not only in the United States, but in the world, was something that was. One of the few thing, few levers we have to make a difference. I know that's, that's something preaching to the choir on that one. But, that's, that's kind of when I got hooked and and realized that we could do more than, than we could, you know, to being a trans, you know, some, somebody who was transacting in the sector to actually be very involved philanthropically from a policy perspective. And then from this convening perspective, I think it's, you know, we are really. Proud of the, what we built starting in, you know, 2010 we were back at Arizona State SkySong facility in, in Scottsdale's we like to say 350 people in sweaty conference rooms. And we were able to, you know, outgrow that. And and this year, You know, had record attendance, you know, with over 7,000 people registered. And and, and some were just, just under 7,000 being there live. Although I hear from lots of, lots of folks that there are probably 3000 people who don't, who don't, who, who are, who are there, who don't pay and then, but are hanging around, hanging around. the event. and that's, and that's all great too. So I think anything we can do to, to, to catalyze These diverse sets of humans from, you know, that when we started this, it was as my partner, Mark Michael said, a strange cocktail of people who didn't typically get in the same room together. So ed tech founders with philanthropists, with investors, with practitioners in the K-12, higher ed and workforce spaces. So the whole idea is to really mash people up and catalyze and inspire people to take actions, as they come out of the event.

Eloy:

Well, having attended. Many, ASU GSV summits. I, I can say that yeah, I can say that. It has truly continued to grow. it's a fun event. lots of different people. And where else can you see the undersecretary of Education with a former Secretary of Education with some of the top ed tech, founders altogether talking about how the federal government regulates. EdTech. So I thought it was I, however you landed on this, it's been, it's been a lot of fun. Now, A S U G S V highlights some of the more cutting edge ideas and trends in education technology. I think anybody who works in and around EdTech is there. and as you said, you've been to many of these, what excited you about what you saw th at this year's summit in San Diego?

Eloy & Deborah:

we had already positioned the theme for, this year, which was Brave New World and, and well ahead of the emergence of, of, of chat G P T and the whole G P T phenomenon. So it turned out to be pretty, pretty fortuitous either precedent or fortuitous or whatever it was, it turned out to be a pretty good theme for what's going on. In the world. so what we did was we, we've always had artificial intelligence and emerging technologies embedded in the program. We, you know, from the, from the very beginning, obviously it was not generative art, artificial intelligence, since that really is, is an, is something that emerged in. Fully emerged in in the January time period. but we've always had a big eye on what things can, what, what can, what kinds of technologies can be leveraged to, to accelerate learning. And so to accelerate learning, to accelerate, you know, assessment we all know we're sitting here. We, massive learning loss. It wasn't great going into Covid. We weren't you, we were not educating enough of our children, in the K-12 system going into Covid, but coming out, coming out of Covid. And we're just, you know, We're continuing to see depressing research released. The research report from Tom Kane and Sean, from Harvard and Stanford came out this week just again reiterating that the loss has not been recovered. That, and then, and looking at lo location based analysis of where that, where the losses are the most severe, and trying to also isolate factors that, that have caused the severity and what do we do to solve it. So I think one of the, as you think about. That daunting challenge, which then as you well know, is inherited into the higher ed system and then is inherited into the employment system. And then, you know, the whole, whatever, 50, 60% of people avoid, don't go into the higher ed system, go directly in the employment system. So, we've always viewed the employer as the fourth education system because they're having to be right. They're, they're inheriting failures downstream, and they're, and they're inheriting the obsolete, the challenges of obsolescence, you know, job obsolescence. So we, we do believe, you know, I appreciate there is the positive and the negative around what's going on with generative ai. There was a, the Atlantic has a big article this week on just the, the, the frustrations that university professors are, are, are facing, particularly writing professors about, you know, what do I do? How do I address this? When, when how, what, you know, how do you teach writing when 90% of your kids are using chat g b t or, or whatever. But I, I, I really do think. That issue aside, you know, that issue, it's hard to put it aside, but that issue, the ability to, to leverage generative AI in a way that, and, and non generative ai, in a way that's, that can allow us to accelerate learning, make it personalized, help teachers and faculty members, you know, address more kids at disparate points of ability because of, you know, learning they did or didn't have, have in, in prior periods. I think it is a real cause for optimism. And there, you know, we had, I think the vast majority of leading edge companies in the, in the generative AI space. We also had. you know, other companies like like a company we've invested in with Arizona State University, dreamscape Learn, which is a vr, VR based platform, which will also have embedded artificial intelligence in it, you know, over time in, in its delivery. But, but you know, that company's seeing really accelerated learning gains from students that go through biology, you know, using the Dreamscape system. So I think where we get excited, Because if you really look at it and, and we've had a lot of conversations about this. We've been, you know, the summit's in his 15th year and we've, we've had, I don't know how many decades now, two decades at least, of of ed tech or the application of technology to, to education and skills. And we haven't made much progress. and there are a lot of reasons for that. It's not that all the ed tech's bad, it's, you know, it's certainly fidelity of implementation. It's challenges that young people face in their personal lives. It's challenges. Teachers face, faculty, you know, so it's a, they're a host of issues. for why we haven't been more successful in moving the needle on academic and skill, skill-based outcomes. we have some real optimism and hopefulness that there is, that we are at a moment of complete revolution. And that there will be that, that the delivery of learning can be transformed through the leveraging of some of these technologies to support teachers, faculty, students. and that's where we get, more optimistic. More hopeful. And it's also, I think the other thing that's kind of cool is, and we saw it cuz there were so many, it's also drawing more creative founders into the ed tech sector. So we're seeing people pouring out of Google, pouring out of, I mean, you know, great leaders out of Google, great leaders outta Microsoft, Amazon. Certainly you'll see all, you'll see some really exciting companies created by very experienced, very smart people who not only understand the technology. But they also understand, education. So they come out of the, you know, they, a lot of them are coming out of the education efforts, so, Of, of those large companies. And, and so I think that's also exciting because it's sort of a new wave. You know, innovation requires innovate tours and great innovate tours and, and and that's true whether you're talking about a company or a university or a a K-12 system or the workforce. We've seeing incredible innovations with K-12 teachers, and, and principals and leaders and at the higher ed, higher ed space as well. So, while I think there is a lot of angst, there's certainly a, a level of anxiety about what this means, you know, for your job or how you, you know, how you have to change things. I do think net net is gonna give us a shot at trying to. trying to pull in these gaps have existed for too long, but have been exacerbated by the years in Covid and and are gonna be even further exacerbated by the rapid move

Eloy:

Mm-hmm. Well, I'm hopeful as well. I think this march toward personalization continues and I, I've certainly seen progress, living, with a huge, education organization pre pandemic and then seeing it. Quickly evolve through the pandemic and now post pandemic. I definitely see the change. Now you mentioned, more traditional educators. I know in my conversations with some of the founders and some of the ed tech folks, some of'em expressed a desire to see more traditional educators at. At the summit, how do you think we can pull them in and get them to see the value of of hearing all this, great work that's happening throughout the ed tech sector?

Eloy & Deborah:

what we did this year, and I mean it, we are a leadership summit, right? A lot of great education events in K-12 higher ed and workforce, and we've always wanted to carve out kind of our position as intentionally focused on, on on leadership. So we're, whether it's in K-12 where we have a massive scholarship program for principals and superintendents in higher ed, we. Really, and, and we doubled down on the K12 community piece. We had over 1100, principals and superintendents representing 47 of 50 states, which is we, you know, you know, off the charts. and that was up, from maybe 800 last year. What we did on the higher ed side, we actually were up by three or four fold in the higher ed space. we actually went out intentionally. I think that we real, we came outta the summit in 2022. We looked at atten, the attendee base. And we said, well actually, you know, we have, and we, you know, we sort of think of the summit in 10% blocks and we said, well, we actually have 10% of the, of attendees come from higher education. But when you peel it back, we realize that the numbers were being dominated by the big guys, right? So whether it was ASU or Western Governors or Southern New Hampshire or, you know, folks like that were sending large numbers of people to the summit because it was so productive for them to meet, to meet probably ed tech companies and things like that. We weren't getting. Smaller universities and other universities who I think didn't feel like it was their, you know, it was a neighborhood that they would be welcome in. And I think, you know, and there's, you know, some of that of that is a unintended intimidation from, from ASU and how big ASU is and all that sort of thing. So we actually went out intentionally this year, began to work with university organizations like CIC and Marjorie Haas, who is absolutely fantastic. They brought, and I'm gonna get the numbers wrong, but they brought a huge number of, of university, you know, smaller, mid-size university presidents. I had a, a wonderful, I'm not gonna remember the university, but a wonderful man grabbed me at or closing piece on Wednesday night and said, This has been amazing. I am scared to death, but I'm going back to campus and I'm going, he was the president of a, a smaller university. So we really intentionally, realize that, that the event, I mean, is not meant to preach to the choir. So if it's just ASU preaching day issue or, or western government or whomever then we haven't really accomplished what we wanted. So we did really, we did appreciably increase the community, attendance in the higher ed space. we're probably gonna do something interesting next year about adding an expo at the front of it, which would be more logical because it won't have a cost to it. for fa for faculty and will allow companies and, and org other organizations who wanna interact with. Faculty and teachers. and so we're, we're, that's in the works of using leveraging the San Diego Conference Center, which is just a, you know, a building away, from the Hyatt and, and having a, a free expo that, that directly precedes me and overlaps probably one day of the, of A S U G S V. And gives real access, to folks who who can come in for free and spend real time with technology providers, and all that. So I think that, I think that is a way for us to, try to, you know, embrace, you know, have access for across markets. But in the ASU GSV event, the, the idea was really to help to focus on leaders and then have leaders go back and disseminate. We certainly have, you know, a number of faculty who come, but, but it, the idea really was to have, you know, chancellors, provost, presidents we're not even, you know, cuz CTOs actually have edgy cause, you know, so it's not, we've never had had a big, group there. But to really get the rest of the group in a, in an environment where they can see the kind of innovation that's happening. At, you know, at, at the most innovative places and, and be inspired by it perhaps, and go back and, and and proselytize a little bit. And then, and then hopefully we'll create some, some ongoing groups that assemble together. So we, we'd like to double the higher ed group again, and we've hit, we've hit capacity on the summit itself. we can't really go beyond 7,000 people at the current in the current venue and probably don't want to, but we would, we would be very interested in, in, in taking the higher ed group up. Probably another double

Eloy:

one of the hopes through this podcast is to reach some of those folks that are really interested in what's going on in higher ed, maybe leaders on their campuses, whether it's a community college or a regional four year university, and get them interested in coming and, and just understanding what's going

Eloy & Deborah:

I think we found that some of these, the organizations, some of the organ, the higher ed organizations, and I think we probably need to get to more of them, but we did some really great, scholarship packaging around admissions and hotel and, And I think that was really helpful, particularly for folks who have got, which is a lot of the, a lot of universities and, and community colleges who are budget constrained and things like that, and are outside of the catchment area of Southern California.

Eloy:

So in addition to running this enterprise called asu, G S v, summit, you're also, an investor in ed tech. I'm sure lots of startups are popping up talking about how they're going to. Leverage AI as an investor, how do you look at those startups? What, what, what are you looking for in, in the kinds of investments you're thinking about making and the kind of pitches that you're hearing from, from various startups?

Eloy & Deborah:

pretty much everyone has put AI onto their you know, gen, you know, gener, g i, generative ai onto their pitch. I think that that's, at this, the, the real trick now is, pulling wheat from chaff and oh by the way, realizing of course, every player in, in the market today, almost every player in the market today is gonna be applying, you know, generative AI to, to, whether it's content production or whether it's chat bots to, you know, answer this or that, or, you know, you know, so everyone's doing, everyone is, and has to do that. But the, the, the, the startup startups, the guys who are really starting from zero, what we are generally doing is finding incredibly talented entrepreneurs who are, who come out of deep tech backgrounds, who, you know have, who have incredible in, you know, insights and perspective on AI and where go and what's, what's happening and, and who have the ability to be. Rapidly flexible because even company, We already backed, called Chiron Learning, for example, we were on with today. I mean, they've already seen. A com, you know, an incredible widening of the addressable market. They have, they start, we're starting in K-12, they're now seeing higher ed applications and they're seeing for, particularly for online universities and they're seeing corporate applications. and a lot of that actually came from interactions at asu G S V. and so we're trying to back very agile people who are also listening really hard. it's always true that the vast majority of venture backed companies don't make it. I think there's such a plethora of, you know, folks jumping in here. if you hear AI tutor one more time, you're probably gonna, you know, shoot yourself. And you, you sort of wonder at some point, how many AI tutors can you actually have? and what does that mean? Or maybe it really needs to go to something else, you know, around pers to your point around per, it's a reflection of personalization and a reflection of other elements of the Learning delivery. so I think we're just trying to find, the folks who are. Who have deep rooted expertise and who are who have who. And therefore also, not only in AI but also in education. Cuz I think they're gonna, you're gonna have a lot of folks jump in who don't have you have education perspective. And as you and I both know, education's a lot harder industry than people appreciate it to be. And, and and we're still, you know, we're still in the early innings of proving that ed tech. Is a successful tech category. And we've had some, we've had some incredible businesses built, but we haven't achieved the scale of, of, of other tech categories yet for the most part. So that's kind of what we're, what we're looking to do is back really talented founders whom we can hopefully really lean into and, and give our ex, give our relationships and expertise to, and, and help them look for the landmines and the opportunities. We're actually doing a school visit to KIPP schools here in Chicago next week with one of one of the founders. they're doing a beta test of, around a very personalized math product that, that helps teachers assemble information about the students and then kind of change, you know, and it helps them personalize their own learning delivery to individual students within the class based on what they're. Quickly learning from the ai in the platform. And, and so we're really excited, you know, so I, I think we're seeing very cool things like that.

Eloy:

as I heard you talking, I couldn't help but remember one of the lines that bill Gates, said when he was there talking to us, he said he was clear about, what investing in EdTech is all about. For, for him, it's, it's about philanthropy, so he's.

Eloy & Deborah:

Well, yeah, he sort of, bill, bill sort of went down a bill, went down a bad path there for a second. I think Jesse sort of pulled him back in that, you know, suggesting that it needed to be, it needed to be philanthropic. And then he kind of quickly tried to, you know, correct himself. But, he's frustrated by his philanthropic investments. So I think the world of what they've done, cuz they took a lot of risks and a lot of it didn't work and. At least we now have the research and the data around what did, you know, what has and hasn't worked. And I think they're, you know, doubling down and putting a billion dollars into math is, just looking at, looking at our math numbers and how far behind our kids are, and then follow into co you know, follow that into college is I think is great. I love the fact that they're, they haven't given up. Because, you know, because there are folks who, who who've

Eloy:

right

Eloy & Deborah:

on the, Philanthropy for education and they haven't given up at all. I love that. I did, I did, I did want to kill him when he said

Eloy:

I I figured, but he got a good laugh or a lot of moans. I. So let me, let me ask you a final question, as we, we wrap up. I recognize that you're still recovering from the April summit, but what are your thoughts about going into the next ASU GSV summit? Where, where does, where do you go from here? know you've talked a little bit about some of the things you're thinking about, but any, any other teasers as as you start planning for 2024?

Eloy & Deborah:

Yeah, I, I think we're hoping that we've got, we hope we're gonna have some windows of opt, you know, some windows of optimism. and I we're already playing with a theme around that, that I think we, we are thinking hard about the ability to execute a, a real expo that's gonna give prac, you know, more practitioners access to to, to providers of, of tech, you know, providers of technology solutions so they can, they can do more hands on. I think that'll be an interesting. Addition to, to the event. I've, you know, fallen in love with a, a podcast that Barry Weiss who spoke this year did with a guy named Tim Urban. And we're gonna have Tim speak this next year. We've already booked him. And, you know, his point is that there are, you know, that there are echo chambers in their innovation labs. And, and it's okay to have an echo chamber as long as. The echo chamber is listening to other echo chambers or listening to other perspectives. And I think that our objective and is to really never be an echo chamber. That we are always, engaging in both sides of dialogue. And I think we're gonna sit back and make sure we're doing that and and probably even have a whole stage where we have people talk, you know, debate. You made the point about having. Having this under Secretary of Education who, who is a wonderful human, but who many people disagree with. to have James Al there. And, and, and he was fantastic, by the way, for doing it cuz he didn't have to. and I, I, I applaud, I mean, that was the definition of an innovation lab when you're willing to not stay, you know, stay in your echo chamber and you come out and, and talk to to folks in the, in the innovation lab and see where. Where that goes. so I think that's actually a big focus of ours that we, that we stay in Innovation Lab and Innovation Lab requires that we're talking about, issues from multiple perspective and respecting people we disagree with. and that's what I hope we continue to push my, my credit, my partner Michael Mo, who's, who's always been the most passionate and impassioned on that issue. And Yeah, so we're already sort of booking people with the intention of, of of teeing things up like that. so

Eloy:

Great. Okay.

Eloy & Deborah:

And then, we'll, if anybody's interested in India, we're probably gonna do a, a, a much larger event in India, in, in January

Eloy:

All right. Well that sounds like fun.

Eloy & Deborah:

we'll have that too. Mm-hmm.

Eloy:

All right, listen, Deborah, I really appreciate you taking the time and, talking to me here on the rant. really have enjoyed our conversation. Enjoy the work that you all have done with the summit and I look forward to 2024. So thanks for joining me.

Eloy & Deborah:

Awesome. Well, we always, we always want you in the program, Eloy, happy to get you, get you booked already. So good.

Eloy:

All right. Thanks Deborah. All right. Well everyone, thanks for joining us here on the rant. If you enjoyed this episode, hit the like button. And if you went to the summit please let me know your thoughts. What did you enjoy about the summit? What do you hope to see in the coming year? And leave me your comments about this episode and to hear more episodes subscribe to this channel. Follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Take care, everyone, and we'll see you soon