While her husband prepares for a drawn-out legal battle with investors in the company he co-founded, Rebekah Neumann is attempting to salvage what’s left of her own legacy at WeWork: WeGrow, the $42,000-a-year school that shut down as the co-working company’s IPO ambitions imploded last fall.
Earlier this month, Neumann acquired the rights to the curriculum of the elementary school, which previously occupied the third floor of WeWork’s Chelsea headquarters in New York, people familiar with the matter tell Forbes. The purchase could breathe new life into the passion project for Rebekah and former CEO Adam Neumann, which counted about 100 students when its closure was announced in October.
Neumann declined to be interviewed for this article. Her spokesperson, Asher Gold, declined to comment on the value of the transaction, or offer more financial details. WeWork confirmed the sale but declined to comment further. A person familiar with the matter said the transaction also included some furniture in the asset sale, but no real estate was transferred and the trademark “WeGrow” was not sold.
Using some of the WeGrow curriculum, Neumann is planning to relaunch the school as Students of Life For Life, or SOLFL, pronounced “soulful.” She is partnering with former WeGrow teacher Alexandra Duvall to further develop the initiative, which would include a combination of remote and physical learning, Gold says, with an aim to eventually expand the curriculum nationally, and then globally. The pair are aiming to launch a pilot of the program in time for the September term start, though details remain unclear.
The negotiations to take back their school project come at a tense moment for the Neumanns. Last month, Adam joined other major WeWork investors in a legal fight against SoftBank, WeWork’s controlling investor, after the Japanese conglomerate walked back its commitment to buy almost $3 billion in shares, including almost $1 billion owned by Neumann, alleging that conditions for the sale were not met. In his lawsuit filed in May, Neumann claimed that SoftBank took steps to undermine the terms of the deal, known as a tender offer.
Amid such legal turmoil, WeWork has taken other steps to chart a path toward survival. Under the leadership of real estate veteran Sandeep Mathrani, the company is renegotiating — and in some cases abandoning — dozens of leases with landlords. On Tuesday, the company sold another education business, coding academy Flatiron School, to Carrick Capital Partners, TechCrunch reported.
WeGrow’s origins date back to WeWork’s high-flying period of rapid growth and a $20 billion valuation. Neumann resolved to launch a school after complaining she could find none for her young children in New York City that met her satisfaction. With input from educators, Neumann developed a curriculum that centered on “6 Pillars of Growth,” which included mindfulness — complete with yoga and meditation practice — and an emphasis on teaching children entrepreneurial skills; on one occasion, Adam Neumann reportedly held a workshop on supply and demand. Students also traveled weekly to a 60-acre farm owned by the Neumanns, where they spent “meaningful time engaging with the planet at our Earth Lab,” according to the school’s website.
The Neumanns saw the school, which launched in 2017 with tuition ranging from $22,000 to $42,000 a year, as an integral way for WeWork to further its mission at the time of “elevating the world’s consciousness.” (Neumann’s spokesperson, Gold, says that the majority of students received scholarships). But the project was also seen as a potential distraction to the ambitious co-working company, even as it raised billions for global expansion. No expense was spared: WeWork hired the famed (and expensive) studio of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, BIG, to create a space complete with a rock climbing wall.
Those grand designs came crashing down when public market investors balked at WeWork’s $47 billion valuation and shunned its IPO. Seeking to avoid bankruptcy and total disaster, WeWork announced it would sell off or shutter businesses not considered crucial to its core offering of flexible office space in October. In a move that surprised enrolled families, WeWork shuttered WeGrow.
In the initial aftermath of Adam Neumann’s ouster as CEO of WeWork, the Neumann family decamped to his native Israel to avoid the intense scrutiny of New York and its media scene. They returned to the Hamptons, where they own multiple properties, in May, according to those close to the family.
A group of 30 parents whose children attended WeGrow had been lobbying for WeWork to keep the school open for months, and learned upon the Neumanns’ return to New York of Rebekah’s intent to re-launch the school. One of those parents, Autumn Berrang, says she has been volunteering with Rebekah in an unofficial capacity. “WeGrow’s vision from the very beginning was to create students of life for life globally,” says Berrang, whose two young girls, aged seven and nine, completed the final WeGrow semester remotely last week. “The WeGrow campus in Chelsea was really just a pilot program for how that could expand globally.”
Berrang, who owns an advertising agency and was speaking with Forbes from a beach in Montauk, says she first decided to enroll her children in the school because the “typical” school system did not meet her standards. “The things [students] are required to do are not based on actual education principles and science,” she says. “They are old things that are carried over and have forced educators to teach in a way that isn’t the best for the students.”
She believes she is among many parents who want to “create children who are not just memorizing multiplication tables and facts and figures, but are critical thinkers and are out to do something different and help the world.”
Whenever SOLFL launches, Berrang says she plans to re-enroll her children in the school.