Avathon Capital Sells Big Blue Marble Academy to Leeds Equity Partners

Under Avathon’s ownership, Big Blue Marble more than tripled in size to 67 schools across eight states and grew to become one of the largest early childhood education providers in the country

CHICAGO, Jan. 3, 2024 –  Avathon Capital (“Avathon”), the Chicago-based private equity firm exclusively investing in lower middle-market companies in the education and workforce markets, announced the sale of its portfolio company, Big Blue Marble Academy (“BBMA”) to Leeds Equity Partners (“Leeds Equity”). Founded in 2012, BBMA is a leading provider of early childhood education known for its distinctive programs catering to children from infancy to age four.

“We have proudly served our students and families for over a decade,” said Nan Rikard, Founder and Board Member of BBMA. “I partnered with Avathon because they understood our mission of providing children with the opportunity to reach their full potential and they had a vision to accelerate BBMA’s growth while also focusing on the impact we had on the communities we serve. I could never have imagined the company reaching this milestone. It’s a testament to Avathon, their leadership, and commitment to the industry.”

Since Avathon’s initial investment in 2018, BBMA has grown to now educate over 10,000 students and employ over 2,000 in staff while supporting working families across the Southeastern United States.

“We are extremely proud of the company’s success,” said Brian Schwartz, Managing Director for Avathon. “BBMA navigated the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and emerged as a leading early childhood education provider that families are proud to send their children to and where teachers feel supported as they pursue rewarding careers enriching the lives of students. This marks an extraordinary outcome for all the company’s stakeholders.”

Avathon recruited Jeff Wahl as CEO of BBMA in 2020, leveraging his 35 years of management experience, with the last 20 dedicated to the education sector. Under Wahl’s leadership, BBMA has achieved substantial growth and geographic expansion and also pioneered innovative teacher training and development programs that have resulted in industry-leading employee retention and satisfaction.

“Avathon’s guidance and support empowered us to build a business capable of providing and sustaining the highest-quality early childhood education services, even amid the gravest of challenges,” said Wahl, CEO of BBMA. “As proponents of investing for growth, the team at Avathon enabled us to strengthen our operational foundation and lay the robust groundwork for a bright and promising future with our new partner.”

Avathon invested in BBMA in October of 2018. This transaction marks Avathon’s fifth realization since its founding in 2015.

Baird and William Blair served as financial advisors to BBMA and Baker Hostetler served as BBMA’s legal counsel.

About Avathon Capital: Avathon Capital, a private equity firm based in Chicago, specializes in investing in growing lower middle market companies in the education and workforce markets. Avathon’s principals are curious, creative, determined, and thoughtful investors. They show up prepared and ready to turn their relationships and experience into a competitive advantage for their partners.

Avathon selectively targets opportunities where it can invest $20 to $50 million of equity capital and take a meaningful ownership position in companies with the potential to become enduring and strategically important businesses in their market. For more information visit:

About Big Blue Marble Academy: Big Blue Marble Academy operates 67 schools across eight states providing early care, preschool, after-school care, and summer programs for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years. BBMA nurtures students’ minds through a robust preschool curriculum that ensures children are developmentally, socially, and emotionally prepared for kindergarten and beyond. Its emphasis on global awareness and character development teaches children invaluable lessons, growing big hearts that are ready and eager to take on the world. For additional information on Big Blue Marble Academy, see

About Leeds Equity Partners: Leeds Equity is a New York-based private equity firm dedicated exclusively to partnering with management teams in the education, training, and information services industries (the “Knowledge Industries”).  The firm was founded in 1993 and currently manages approximately $5 billion of capital across a broad spectrum of companies within the Knowledge Industries. Leeds Equity seeks to leverage its sector-focused expertise and market insights to create long-term value for its partner companies and investors. For additional information on Leeds Equity Partners, see

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