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Steve and Connie Ballmer commit $59M to Social Solutions. (Ballmer Group Photo)

In the years since Steve Ballmer left his role as Microsoft’s chief executive, he’s dedicated his time to passion projects, from owning a major sports franchise to making government data more accessible. Now, the lifelong technologist is funding a new project, using software to identify children and others who need meal support, tutoring, and other services.

Ballmer and his wife Connie are committing $59 million in Social Solutions, the Austin company behind a software program called Apricot. Using Apricot, case managers can see trends and predict problems by looking at data from a variety of sources, like after-school programs, non-profits, and schools.

The Ballmer Group funding will primarily go toward research and development for Apricot. The funds will be invested over five years. The Ballmer Group will obtain a financial interest in Social Solutions, and Steve Ballmer will become a board observer for the company. If Social Solutions increases in value or goes public, the Ballmer Group could profit. Bloomberg first reported the news Wednesday.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify how the Ballmer Group funds will be used. 

“There are millions of nonprofit and social service agencies in the United States,” Steve Ballmer said via email. “We want to connect their efforts around each child they serve. I liken it to an electronic medical record. Everyone gets that, why the hospital should really know your drug allergies before you come in for emergency surgery.”

It can be challenging to see the full picture when students need support because of antiquated systems and databases that can’t talk to one another. While other industries take simple client management technology for granted, schools and organizations that help at-risk children often lag behind.

For example, a non-profit in Kansas City, Mo., was relying on paper records and siloed spreadsheets before implementing Apricot, according to the Ballmer Group. With the software, the organization is able to track 7,000 students across five school districts to detect early warning signs, like poor attendance.

“The more you see the complexity of all the hurdles a family or child starting in poverty faces … and then, think of all the ways we as a society try to intervene to help and how seldom all the supports are connected to all the challenges – the dots are connected for that kid – it’s pretty compelling stuff,” said Connie Ballmer. “So going to the specific of case management software to bring the power of data to their lives – that’s really just another tool to make all these efforts to empower these families more efficient and informed.”

In its philanthropic efforts, the Ballmer Group is focused on giving at-risk children an equal shot at economic mobility, but Apricot can also help case managers working with other people in need.

“The technology won’t just serve children living in poverty,” Steve Ballmer said. “It can serve seniors, people living with disabilities, the homeless — anybody whose life is touched by the social services sector, and may be falling through the cracks now because this data is not being shared in real-time. It’s basically CRM for case workers.”

Steve and Connie Ballmer offered more details via email in response to GeekWire’s questions. Their comments are included in full below.

GeekWire: What do you think will be the long-term, practical impact of this investment?

Steve Ballmer: What we hope — what we’re trying to kindle — is more ongoing interest from software companies at different scales to really design and innovate for this sector which is so far behind. And in Apricot itself, a tool that integrates all the aspects of how a community, a school, a series of nonprofits all work together to touch a child’s life. More work has been done that’s consumer-facing, like apps that prompt parents that it’s time to get the kids to school, or communicates with families about homework assignments. That’s really B2C in the business sense. We’re doing more B2B, to connect the entities that serve the consumer of the service, to build a technology architecture for a community to better empower its most vulnerable families. And we want this kind of technology in the hands of more nonprofits and government agencies. There are millions of nonprofit and social service agencies in the United States. We want to connect their efforts around each child they serve. I liken it to an electronic medical record. Everyone gets that, why the hospital should really know your drug allergies before you come in for emergency surgery. And we know how to do privacy protocols to enable that level of data to responsibly exist for other aspects of people’s lives.

GeekWire: Why is case management for at-risk kids something you chose to tackle in your philanthropy work?

Connie Ballmer: Well, we broadly support efforts to help children and families move out of poverty in the U.S., because the statistics are so stark. I started with looking at foster care. I am a mom. I met people who were foster parents and I was just struck by how really tough that situation is for little kids. So you start looking at one issue like foster care, but then as you learn more, you look at the broader situation of we do child welfare. You want to go upstream, do an earlier intervention. That takes you to how did that family end up there. And the more you see the complexity of all the hurdles a family or child starting in poverty faces – from nutrition, to chronic health conditions, to low-wage jobs, to violence in the home or the neighborhood, to school absences, to no communication or support around homework, to a parent facing incarceration or substance abuse – you realize that child is just facing so much. And then, think of all the ways we as a society try to intervene to help. And how seldom all the supports are connected to all the challenges – the dots are connected for that kid – it’s pretty compelling stuff. So going to the specific of case management software to bring the power of data to their lives – that’s really just another tool to make all these efforts to empower these families more efficient and informed.

GeekWire: Do you expect this investment to fund other use cases for Apricot, outside of schools?

Steve Ballmer: Oh yes, it’s really to connect nonprofits that provide all these other supports to families – before and after school programs, employment or addiction counseling for parents, food banks, anti-gang initiatives, health care – to connect them around the lives of individual children and families with government agencies that are serving them too. The technology won’t just serve children living in poverty. It can serve seniors, people living with disabilities, the homeless — anybody whose life is touched by the social services sector, and may be falling through the cracks now because this data is not being shared in real-time. It’s basically CRM for case workers.

Editor’s note: GeekWire is working with Steve Ballmer and his team on a project to be announced later this year.

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