Roughly 7 in 10 state prison inmates did not receive a high school diploma, and 6 in 10 struggled to secure employment after incarceration, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nucleos, is an education solutions startup and public benefit corporation aiming to boost access to education in less accessible areas, particularly in correction spaces. Last December, Nucleos secured a pivotal Phase IIB grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through a highly competitive process, which is especially rare for social impact companies. This major success brought their seed stage funding to $3 million. Princeton Entrepreneurship Council recently caught up with Noah Freedman ‘12, CEO and Co-Founder of Nucleos, who shared his inspiration and journey combining public policy and technology to promote a more just society through “second chance learning.”
Noah’s time at Princeton inspired him to employ interdisciplinary approaches to create social impact. In addition to his studies in public policy, Noah ventured to explore courses outside of his major, notably Cybersecurity and the undergraduate’s favorite COS126 Introduction to Computer Science. In the ENG495 Social Entrepreneurship class with Professor Gordon Bloom, Noah started thinking of ways to combine these multidisciplinary lenses to give back to the community. Noah also interned through a Princeton program in Bangalore, India, with Ashoka, one of the first social enterprises. After graduation, Noah worked as a computer analyst at Stanford University Graduate School of Education, where he and his team developed software to expand e-learning programs to schools in over 22 countries with high barriers to accessing the Internet, including Zimbabwe and Kenya. He continued to work in several mission-based education organizations afterward.
The turning point came when his former colleague was incarcerated, making Noah realize the disparity of the digital divide and education gap exacerbated by COVID-19, especially in the correction space, which heavily lacked the tools to deliver education opportunities at scale. Incarcerated individuals face difficulties in integrating back after their release, and Noah believes that education and training are vital to empowering these individuals.
Nucleos partners with correctional institutions, state and county governments and school districts, providing digital tools for learning, tracking progress, and connecting individuals to jobs. They bring courses and pathway programs from partners such as Coursera and Western Governors University. Nucleos adopts a blended model in which digital tools complement the in-person training in these facilities to maximize learning outcomes. “Digital knowledge is not a zero-sum game. It’s a win-win situation,” says Noah, “Distribution of opportunities helps everyone.” Noah also previously collaborated with Jeffery Abramovitz, the new CEO of the Petey Greene Program (PGP), which seeks to provide high-quality volunteer tutoring programs to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. Noah noted the possibility of further working with PGP to expand access to education in correction spaces.
David Dahl, the founder and former president of Dave’s Killer Bread, the mission-based organic bakery brand that promotes second-chance employment for incarcerated individuals, is among the investors behind Nucleos. “Nucleos’s mission fits my mission to pass on some great things I learned that made Dave’s Killer Bread possible,” shared Dahl, “More education in prisons supports better outcomes. I know this from personal experience learning inside and then as an employer of great people on the outside.”
Most recently, Nucleos has announced a strategic partnership with Coursera, the global online learning platform, to bring access to thousands of courses and credentials to the justice-involved learners available through the Nucleos educational platform. “Since the pandemic, Coursera has been a strategic partner with some of the most innovative states across the country, equipping thousands of residents with in-demand skills and credentials from the world’s leading universities and companies,” said Kevin Mills, Head of Coursera for Government. "We’re excited to collaborate with Nucleos and iT1 Source to bring educational opportunities to the justice involved, whether their goal is to learn new skills, advance their education, explore a career path, or unlock job prospects post release."
Noah noted the continuous support from Princeton’s robust entrepreneurship system, starting with early funding from PEC’s Alumni Entrepreneur Fund (AEF), which helped kickstart the company’s journey. Along the way, fellow Princeton alumni have also been open to sharing advice. Nucleos is open to connecting with alumni interested in the work they are doing and the communities they are supporting.