Venture Philanthropy Partners: Investing in Social Change.


SEED Foundation


Aisha Ford, Class of ’04, flourished at The SEED School. She developed strong relationships with her teachers and classmates, and took advantage of every opportunity SEED made available—internships, tutoring, life skills classes, interesting courses, and even travel to Costa Rica and Greece. She is now enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University, and offered these thoughts about how SEED prepared her for college: “It was hard to learn and stay focused in my neighborhood, but living at The SEED School gave me the chance to concentrate on my studies and learn how to make good decisions. I would not have accomplished what I have were it not for the support of SEED. SEED prepared me for college, period. I am forever grateful to SEED for helping make me into who I am today.”

Statistics show that many urban children have little hope of attaining college and long-term success. Even when the public day school system offers a strong academic program, these students may not succeed because key environmental factors work against them. Drugs, violence, crime, and teen pregnancy take a human toll on students in urban areas.

To meet the needs of these students, The SEED Foundation, co-founded by Eric Adler and Rajiv Vinnakota, developed the SEED school model and opened its first school, The SEED School of Washington, DC in 1998.

The SEED School provides a tuition-free, intensive boarding education to urban children in grades seven through twelve. Students live in dormitories, benefiting from an integrated curriculum of academic, extracurricular, and life skills, and take on mentoring roles, community service, and personal responsibilities. The School provides students with rigorous academic and social curricula, comfortable accommodations, three nutritious meals a day, and an elaborate network of support. SEED’s innovative boarding school model garners success; 96 percent of SEED graduates have, like Aisha Ford above, been accepted to four-year colleges and universities.

Building on the success of The SEED School of Washington, DC, the Foundation opened The SEED School of Maryland in 2008 and seeks to establish SEED schools to serve more families around the country.

Investment Fact Sheet

The SEED Foundation
1776 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036

Founded in 1997

Co-Founders and Managing Directors: Eric Adler and
Rajiv Vinnakota
Foundation Board of Directors: Seventeen directors

Mission and History
Former management consultants Eric Adler and Rajiv Vinnakota founded The SEED (Schools for Educational Evolution and Development) Foundation in 1997 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to partnering with urban communities to provide innovative educational opportunities. As a first step toward this mission, The SEED Foundation developed the SEED school model, which integrates academic training with life skills and enrichment to prepare students for college, all the while providing holistic services in a stable and nurturing boarding school environment.

In 1998 the Foundation opened its first school, The SEED School of Washington, DC, based upon the SEED school model. The School opened with 40 seventh-grade students at the Capital Children’s Museum. The Foundation later raised $12 million in donations and secured $14 million through bonds to transform the abandoned Weatherless Elementary School in southeast DC into a four-building campus. The four-acre campus, which is adjacent to federal parkland, comprises boys' and girls' dormitories, an academic building, a student center and gym, playing fields, and a courtyard. Today, The SEED School serves more than 300 children in grades seven through twelve.

SEED is changing previous practice by creating a new service delivery model that harnesses resources from the public and private spheres to build a comprehensive program that provides underserved urban students with the stability and services they need to succeed. The SEED School is a financially sustainable institution and serves as a model for the creation of additional SEED schools in the Washington, DC area and around the country.


Eric AdlerEric Adler
Co-Founder and Managing Director
For eight years Eric taught high school physics at St. Paul's School in Baltimore, where he also served as dean of students. More recently, he worked as a management consultant, the principal of an investment advisory firm and an adjunct faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University Graduate Division of Business and Management. He graduated from Sidwell Friends School and earned degrees in engineering and economics from Swarthmore College. He received an MBA in finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Eric is an Echoing Green fellow and was named a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine. He has received the Manhattan Institute's Outstanding Social Entrepreneurship Award, an Oprah Winfrey "Use Your Life" Award, and a Fast Company/Monitor Group's Social Capitalist award for his work at The SEED Foundation.

Rajiv VinnakotaRajiv Vinnakota
Co-Founder and Managing Director

Prior to founding SEED, Rajiv was an associate at Mercer Management Consulting, where he worked on strategic and financial projects in a variety of industries. He has also been involved with programs for inner-city and adjudicated children and served on the board of The Empower Program, which works with youth to end the culture of violence. He graduated from Princeton University with a degree in molecular biology and a certificate of studies from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy. Rajiv is an Echoing Green fellow and an Ashoka fellow. For his work at The SEED Foundation he was named a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine and has received the Manhattan Institute's Outstanding Social Entrepreneurship Award, an Oprah Winfrey "Use Your Life" Award, and a Fast Company/Monitor Group's Social Capitalist Award. Rajiv is a trustee of Princeton University.

Investment Summary

Please note: this Investment Summary represents VPP's perspective at the time of the business planning agreement, June 2005.  

In June 2005, VPP and The SEED Foundation, which founded and oversees The SEED School of Washington, DC—the first urban, public boarding school in the nation—began an investment partnership.

The first phase of this investment partnership will focus on business planning. VPP will provide $350,000 in funding and strategic assistance to enable the Foundation to engage leading experts in the fields of strategic planning and outcomes design to help it develop a comprehensive, multi-year business plan. This plan will guide SEED toward achievement of its aspirations to serve an additional 600 youth in the region and become a national model for other communities wanting to establish urban boarding schools. Based on the successful completion of the business planning phase, we would enter into a multi-year investment agreement.

The SEED Foundation and The SEED School of Washington, DC have demonstrated a successful educational model. The investment in SEED has the potential to expand a unique approach that offers students an educational enrichment opportunity they would otherwise not have, thus breaking the cycle of poverty. At the present time, there are no other successful urban boarding school models.

The leadership, management, and board of The SEED Foundation and School feel strongly that expanding this model in the DC area will lead to its replication in several other major city locations and inspire increased national political support. To that end, their aspiration is to:

  • Triple the number of students attending a college preparatory, urban public boarding school in the greater Washington, DC area;
  • Refine and enhance The SEED School’s model and outcomes;
  • Define a range of funding models for building capital-intensive urban boarding schools and other capital-intensive nonprofit services; and
  • Expand into other states where legislation has been passed to support charter schools or other alternative forms of public education, where precedent exists for innovative educational solutions for children and adolescents, and where capital funding opportunities may already exist.

The SEED Foundation has very strong leadership in its founders and managing directors, Eric Adler and Rajiv Vinnakota, who are highly regarded for their innovative approach to educating students in urban settings and for their exceptional talent in mobilizing resources and support for The SEED School. They and their leadership team have evolved from a small group of visionaries to nationally recognized thought leaders focused on inner-city education and revitalization.

They are now at a major crossroads. The current location is self-sustaining. They can either continue to successfully educate 300 children each year and graduate 25 to 50 children prepared to enter college, or they can demonstrate that the multi-site urban boarding school model can be replicated and is viable in this region as well as other regions across the county. In the latter case, there is the potential for many more children to be served and the possibility to shift some basic tenets of public policy around education.

An investment in The SEED Foundation at this time will enable it to plan strategically to take its efforts to the next level. We estimate that an investment of up to $2 million would support business planning and enhance organizational capacity and implement growth objectives to help SEED fulfill its overall aspiration.

Success Factors
The SEED Foundation has demonstrated that it can successfully raise significant funding, open and operate an urban boarding school, and effectively prepare young adults to be accepted into four-year college programs.

The SEED Foundation is poised for further success. It has the financial backing locally (from foundations and individuals) and, increasingly, nationally. It has local as well as some national political support. SEED demonstrates an educational model that succeeds in educating children in a demanding college preparatory and boarding school setting, which has led to interest from other cities to create local campuses. SEED’s staff has successfully attracted parental support and has also established a very strong board. SEED hired an experienced educator, John Ciccone, as head of school, recruited experienced academic and boarding staff, and is building a management team at the Foundation to support and manage a multi-site organization.

Use of Funds
Through the first phase of this investment partnership, VPP will provide up to $350,000 in funding and strategic assistance for The SEED Foundation to develop a business plan to achieve its aspiration of becoming a multi-site organization. The planning process will help the SEED leadership define a strategy to triple the number of children served in the region and test other financial models to support this exponential growth.

Seed Foundation Website


The SEED Foundation completed the business planning process in March 2006.

Key Accomplishments

The SEED Foundation made considerable progress at fully integrating the academic and student life programs at SEED Public Charter School (SPCS). The boards for the Foundation and the school have continued to work to align strategic priorities, increasing focus on the use of data to improve outcomes. Other accomplishments include:

  • Human Capital – Board and Management: Integration of a new head of school, under whom more emphasis is now placed on improving outcomes. The addition of a new, non-executive chair to the Foundation’s board, and the execution of an agreement by the board defining the relationship between the Foundation and SPCS.
  • Outcomes Assessment: Establishment of an outcomes assessment system at both the school and Foundation that will ultimately permit a thorough evaluation and understanding of SEED’s model, paving the way for wider acceptance of the organization’s approach.
  • Organizational Strength: Greater emphasis on teacher and staff retention, which has increased.

Key Information

Date, years, and stage of VPP Investment:
June 2005; 4 years (complete)
Capital committed and disbursed by VPP:
$2,000,000 committed and funded
Revenue increase and % budget growth:
$750 thousand to $1.2 million — 60% in four years
Leveraged funding:
$10.5 million to $20.6 million - 95% increase in 4 years
Expansion to new places and coverage:
1 new school in Baltimore

Case Study

Growing Quality and Adapting to Challenges

In the late 1990s, two management consultants, Eric Adler and Raj Vinnakota, were introduced to each other and found they shared a passion for improving the educational opportunities of young people in low income communities. Both independently had the same idea about how to make it happen. “There are boarding schools for privileged kids, why not for the ones who need them the most?” Vinnakota recalls they asked. So the duo successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress and the Council of the District of Columbia to amend the education budget to provide additional operating funds for boarding charter schools in the District of Columbia. They also obtained a provisional charter from the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board.

In 1998, the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board granted a charter to The SEED School of Washington, DC. The same year, the Bank of America committed a $7.6 million loan to SEED, the largest loan ever made to a U.S. charter school managed by a not-for-profit institution, The SEED Foundation. In 1999, Raj and Eric raised an additional $4 million in commitments. In 2000, because of these individuals’ and foundations’ gifts, groundbreaking on the new SEED school campus was possible.

By 2003, the SEED School of Washington, DC was at full capacity with 320 students. Over $20 million had been raised to expand the campus to its full size and grow the student body to its capacity, which also ensured that the public revenues from local and federal funds met the operating expenses and debt service requirements for the school. In 2004, SEED welcomed its first graduating class, 100 percent of whom were admitted to college. The school continued to grow.

The SEED Foundation had plans to expand and open another school in the District as well as in other areas. But things did not go as planned.

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