November 29, 2023
It’s that time of year, to reflect back upon the many successes and honor those who have worked toward that success. Kirkland & Ellis LLP will present the annual IVCA Awards Dinner, taking place on Monday, December 4th, 2023, starting at 5:30pm at the Four Seasons in Chicago. The honors conferred will be the Venture Capital Portfolio Company of the Year, the Richard J. Daley Award and the Private Equity Portfolio Company of the Year.
The Private Equity Portfolio Company of the Year is Right At School, and the honor will be presented to Mark Rothschild. the company’s Founder & CEO, by Steve King, the Founding Partner of the company’s Private Equity investor Prairie Capital.
Right At School is a provider of safe, engaging and meaningful in-school and extracurricular programs to enrich the lives of students, give parents peace of mind, and enable schools to focus on their academic mission. They offer a wide range of exceptional and affordable enrichment programs for before, during and after school, growing from serving 200 students a day in 2011 to over 50,000 today. Prairie Capital and its team recently sold and exited their majority stake in Right At School in July of this year, and will retain a minority ownership stake.
The IVCA recently interviewed both Steve King and Mark Rothschild on the mechanism of the investment and evolution of Right At School.
IVCA: Steve, what was behind the decision-making process for Prairie Capital in acquiring Right At School, and creating the environment for a successful sale this year?
Steve King: We were introduced to Right At School (RAS) in early 2017. Consistent with our investing approach at Prairie, we initially spent a lot of time in due diligence of Right At School’s addressable market. While RAS was a fairly small company at the time we were introduced, our team developed a lot of conviction around the enormity of the company’s Total Addressable Market.
We also were extremely impressed by Mark Rothschild, specifically his leadership skills, vision for the company, and enthusiasm about working with a growth-oriented investor like Prairie. We quickly forged a partnership that enabled us to make the requisite investments to scale the company, including supplemental management, technology, go-to-market, and more.
IVCA: Mark, what was behind the development of your company, and what was the game changer of Prairie Capital coming in to acquire Right to School as a portfolio company?
Mark Rothschild: We saw that parents and children needed safe, meaningful, and fun afterschool programs across the country, but too often received subpar service. Well-meaning people tried to provide after school services in schools across the country, but it looked more like babysitting than meaningful enrichment. We set out to change that.
Prairie allowed us to constantly improve our systems, structures, and services and expand our offerings and footprint across the nation. Because of Prairie’s support, we now provide after school programs to over 50,000 students a day in 900 schools and growing.
IVCA: Steve, Prairie Capital has invested in a variety of different types of businesses. How was the education industry a different and distinct challenge versus all the other types of commerce?
King: While it’s true that we at Prairie invest in many industries, it’s important to note that we take a thematic approach to investing focusing on sectors that we think are poised to enjoy rapid primary demand growth. K-12 education is an industry that has many such sub-sectors … including before and afterschool programming. We have had a lot of good fortune investing in the K-12 education sector. That experience allowed us to bring human capital and other resources to bear on the company. Our education experience also allowed us to appreciate the unique challenges of selling to and servicing school district customers.
IVCA: Mark, what was the experience of working with Prairie Capital, up to and including the sale of your business this summer?
Rothschild: Prairie Capital was a dream partner. They cared deeply about the business and the families we served, and inspired management to run the business in ways that benefited students, parents, schools, and our staff. This was never more apparent than during the pandemic, when schools shut down and we burned through about $1MM a month staying afloat. It would have been cheaper had we shut down operations during that period, but instead we became a refuge for children of first responders and later, learned how to serve children across the country right at their own schools, even when their schools were closed. We did right by children, parents, and schools during this period, which helped our business grow more than we ever could have dreamed once we got to the other side of the pandemic.
IVCA: What are the highlights of Right At School as a growing entity, and how has been its influence as a game changer in education?
Rothschild: Because of Right At School, parents now expect more for their children in afterschool programs, and organizations across the country have had to step up their game. After the pandemic, children have needed much more social emotional support, which they can find in meaningful afterschool enrichment programs.
IVCA: Steve, when all was wrapped up, and besides monetary success, what did Prairie Capital admire about the business structure and success of Right At School?
King: As you know, our investment in Right At School produced a tremendous investment outcome. However, just as importantly, everyone involved in the company is proud of the social good that RAS produces … which is a direct result of the mission and culture established by Mark Rothschild.
In a time when many students are facing mental health challenges, the RAS program — grounded in social emotional learning principles — now serves almost 50,000 students. Also, the number of people employed by Right At School grew during our ownership from fewer than 500 at the date of our acquisitor to approximately 3,250 today. More kids served and more people employed. That’s success.
IVCA: Mark, post the sale and looking into the crystal ball, what are the plans for Right At School in 2024 and beyond?
Rothschild: Our new capital partners are committed to our growth plans and want to see us expand our offerings to be year-round school partners. Our next goal to serve 150,000 families a day in 1,500 schools, one child at a time.
IVCA: Finally, as the 2023 recipient of the Private Equity Portfolio Company of the Year, what does it mean to you personally to be recognized by the IVCA and your peers in the Private Equity industry?
Rothschild: There is plenty of money to be made in crypto, AI, social media and new technology, and there are lots of great companies doing good work in those spaces. But I’m honored that the IVCA chose to recognize a direct services company like Right At School. We enrich the lives of students and families every day in classrooms across America. I couldn’t be prouder.
Kirkand & Ellis LLP presents the 2023 IVCA Annual Awards Dinner on December 4th, 2023, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. For info and updates, click here.