Education + The Sharing Economy


A Reflection on Education Marketplaces

I recently had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at 1871 about how marketplace models (think Uber, TaskRabbit, AirBNB) are making waves in education. Expertly organized by Educerlerate, Inc., and generously sponsored by Pearson, the panel featured some heavy-hitters in the Chicago ed tech scene, including Admissionado,, WyzAnt, and Mntors. I was honored to partake! My fellow panelists and I had the opportunity to give insight into our businesses, discuss the potential of the “sharing economy” on the future education landscape, and answer some important questions around what it means to be an education marketplace and where to go from here.

In recent years, the sharing economy has come under attack for a whole host of reasons. Critics claim it’s largely unregulated, disrupting existing industries, displacing conventional jobs, eliminating labor protections, and trivializing the concept of “sharing”, to name a few! What quickly became evident when listening to the panel, however, was that these companies were decidedly not the “Ubers of education”. In fact, the panel uniformly rejected that association. For the companies mentioned above, and for The Graide Network in particular, a guiding principle is the use of technology to create meaningful, mutually-beneficial, human-powered connections, networks, and relationships that never previously existed. The end result is additive, not dismissive or diminishing.

Moreover, it became palpably clear that the education marketplaces on the panel differed from traditional marketplace models in another meaningful way: the scales are balanced. When you think of the average marketplace model, you tend to think of companies who connect individuals with disposable income to individuals who need disposable income, and most of these companies, at their core, are far more focused on the former. Of course, you need both sides for a marketplace to function, but when it comes to company mission, value proposition, sales and marketing efforts, and customer service, the focus is (almost) always on the paying party. What I heard time and time again from the panel was a resolute belief that both sides of the market are key stakeholders, deserving consideration and support. This certainly holds true for The Graide Network. In every decision we make, we consider the impact on and needs of our teachers, our Graiders, and of course, the students, and we work tirelessly to support all three. It is the foundation of our business and critical to our mission. I felt especially proud of The Graide Network that night. For many education marketplace models, it is a constant and ongoing challenge to work towards closing the education gap. Hiring private mentors and tutors is not an option for most low-income households, where oftentimes the student need is greatest. Companies providing these private-pay platforms have come up with creative and thoughtful initiatives, such as flexible pricing and scholarship opportunities to support and reach these underserved communities. The Graide Network, however, operates in almost exclusively Title I and high-needs schools, where urgency to build college-ready skills is critical. We give support to the teachers who are at the greatest risk of burning out, and we empower students who don’t have access to private support outside the classroom. To us, the sharing economy is a democratizing force and we are excited to be pioneering new and meaningful applications in education.


Elizabeth Nell is the co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer of The Graide Network.