Ballmer Group founders Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO, and his wife, Connie, will invest $59 million over five years for a stake in Austin-based Social Solutions, which is owned by Vista Equity Partners. The cash will support projects in twenty cities to connect the company's Apricot data and case management software — which is similar to corporate customer-management programs but designed to help school officials and social workers provide services to children — to data collected by schools, including grades and attendance records. Apricot monitors the data; uses algorithms to determine which students are doing well and may benefit from accelerated programs, and which students are at risk for falling behind or dropping out; checks the resources available through local nonprofits; and recommends services such as tutoring, afterschool care, and/or meal support. The funding will enable Social Solutions to more quickly expand product features and improve design of the Apricot platform, facilitate integration with other public and nonprofit systems using robust data-sharing agreements to protect privacy, and cut the licensing costs for early adopters of the software.
"The software will be able to make recommendations and actually facilitate the referrals within the program," Social Solutions CEO Kristin Nimsger told Bloomberg. Current users of the Apricot software include the Institute for Public School Initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin and the YMCA of Greater Seattle.
Steve Ballmer told Bloomberg that building software designed to help lift children and families out of poverty requires investing in a for-profit company rather than awarding grants to nonprofits. In 2015, the Ballmers donated $9 million to a group building a custom software system for Washington State's child welfare offices — but pulled the plug when expanding it to other state agencies was estimated to cost up to $200 million. "[Y]ou were basically starting a software company," said Connie Ballmer. The experience led the couple to look for a better way to help nonprofits acquire state-of-the-art technology.
"Our mission is to give kids living in poverty in the United States a chance at moving up — and demand for social services to enable that is rising faster than the nonprofit sector's ability to meet it," added Ballmer. "We need to strengthen this sector, and measurement of the impact of services is at the core of any progress here. Social service organizations can often be twenty years behind the private sector in the availability and use of data and technology, and so in order to help nonprofits and the families they serve, we want to support leaders in this field like Social Solutions."