Investing in education
"I? am who I am because of the opportunities the Lake Oswego School District provided me."
That's the message keynote speaker Michael Jones brought to the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation's annual luncheon Tuesday at the Oregon Golf Club, where civic and school leaders joined with community members to help fund additional teaching positions for local classrooms.
"The Foundation luncheon is an opportunity for the Foundation to celebrate and thank some of our most loyal and generous supporters," said Mary Kay Larson, the organization's executive director. "We are grateful for their giving spirit, whether it be financial gifts, precious volunteer time or advocacy for educational excellence."
The luncheon is a "great community bonding event," Larson said, but it's also an important fundraiser, second only to a series of phone-a-thons that get underway next week. The Foundation uses the donations it receives to hire and retain additional teachers, who typically can be found at every school in the district; the $1.5 million raised last year currently funds the equivalent of 20 full-time teachers in local classrooms.
This year's goal is also $1.5 million, and Larson told The Review that the group is already a third of the way toward hitting that mark. "Many at the luncheon have already donated," she said, "but we still raised $41,250 in new donations and pledges.
"This year's marketing campaign for the Foundation is based on the idea of 'A Great Start to a Bright Future,'" Larson added, "and Mike Jones is a shining example of that."
After graduating from Lake Oswego High in 1993, Jones studied Marketing and International Business at the University of Oregon. Since that time, he has made a career out of investing in promising ideas and growing businesses ranging from early-stage startups to private equity-backed companies to public media enterprises.
Jones invested early in companies such as HelloSociety (acquired by The New York Times), FameBit (acquired by Google) and Dollar Shave Club (acquired by Unilever), resulting in more than $2.5 billion in exit financing. He has been the CEO of many companies, including Userplane (acquired by AOL), Tsavo (acquired by Cybermedia), PBJ (acquired by JB), MySpace (acquired by Specific Media) and FIM (acquired by Rubicon Project).
Jones is now the CEO of Science Inc., a startup studio in Santa Monica, where he helps young and talented CEOs turn their ideas into real companies.
And all of that, he told luncheon attendees Tuesday, was first inspired by a class he took at Lake Oswego High School called "Political Action Committee."
"I don't know why it was called that, because I swear the teacher just stood in front of us and asked, "So, what do you want to do this year?" Jones said. "So I said, 'I don't know, let's go to Japan!'"
The teacher agreed, and Jones and his class, with the support of the community, organized an exchange program that enabled them to travel to Japan. Needless to say, the class taught Jones a lot.
"As a very young person, I learned that I could be in a completely self-propelled project and work with a team to complete something that seems almost impossible," he said.
Being on the yearbook staff was also a formative experience for Jones. "I was the ad sales guy," he said. "So I got really comfortable asking people for money, which turned out to be a very valuable skill."
Jones said he took what he learned at LOHS with him when he attended the University of Oregon's International Business School. By his sophomore year, he had started his first company; in 1997, he was named Student Entrepreneur of the Year.
Today, he works with young entrepreneurs, usually in the technology sector, to develop their ideas into a functional, profitable company. He has a team of 18 people who work with him to execute that goal in office space where walls of whiteboards call out to creative minds.
"I have learned that nothing can happen with just an individual," Jones said. "You need a team behind you."
He also spoke about the importance of education and the work being done by the Foundation to support students in Lake Oswego.
"Education is the only way to lift up a country, it's the best way to lift up a city, and it's the best way to lift up a school district," Jones said. "To not invest in education will result in a debt that our kids will pay for."
The luncheon featured several other speakers, including Foundation Board President John Georges and LOSD Superintendent Heather Beck — who pointed to the district's successes and the role teachers play in making Lake Oswego schools among the best in Oregon and across the country — and Larson, who made a pitch not only for donations but also for volunteers to staff the Foundation phone-a-thon scheduled from 5-8 p.m. on Feb. 6-8.
"That's when volunteer efforts really kick up a notch," Larson said.
She said she understands that not everyone may find working on a phone bank the most exciting activity, but everyone who has done it has found it to be a positive experience.
"There's something really energizing about working together for a common goal," Larson said.