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Venture Capitalist Promotes Education Venture

NEW YORK -- John Doerr, a leading Silicon Valley venture capitalist, is building a network of investments, but one that is not necessarily following the traditional rules of financing technology start-ups.

Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Woodside, Calif., is recruiting entrepreneurs in education.

"This is going to be the biggest revolution," he said. "We are not interested in financial returns, although our for-profit investments will be successful. We are interested in social reform."

Speaking Wednesday at the Freedom and Equal Opportunity in Education conference here, Doerr said education is about to meet an irresistible force.

"The Internet is a force for change that will sweep over our schools," he said. "There is a new economy and educational entrepreneurs can bring about a radical change in our educational system."

Doerr said the state of education is one that makes him angry.

He is not alone. While the United States is in the midst of what will soon become the longest economic expansion in its history, 40 percent of the nation's fourth-graders read below grade level and 50 percent of the nation's incoming college freshman need remedial courses in reading or mathematics.

The country's long-term prosperity and economic well-being is rooted in its educational system, Doerr said. An educated labor pool is a necessity to stoke the economic engines that information technology is revving. The same force that has propelled the Internet forward can be applied to education.

"VCs solve every problem with entrepreneurs," Doerr said.

In technology, Doerr's firm has backed winners like Netscape,, Sun Microsystems, and Compaq.

Doerr and other financiers have created a not-for-profit venture capital fund, The New Schools Fund, to nurture entrepreneurship in education. Doerr, whose company reviews up to 3,000 business plans a year, is willing to take a look.

"Send us a small business plan, we'll review it," he said.

To date, Doerr said the fund has reviewed 100 business plans and funded six.

While Doerr is counting on social change, others are counting possible profits.

"Parents are willing to pay $10,000 to raise their kids board scores by 75 points," said William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts, who is now in New York running a $150 million fund investing in the education and training market. "There are huge fortunes to be made. There are opportunities to do well by doing good."