The AT&T Aspire Accelerator Goes to Washington

The AT&T Aspire Accelerator Goes to Washington

By: Peter Gault
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Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - 2:05pm



The AT&T Aspire Accelerator program brought its cohort of five ed-tech companies to Washington, DC to connect with policy makers and thought leaders. Over three fast-paced days, the companies visited the Department of Education, the White House (the President was busy) and an AT&T Foundry Futurecast event.

On Monday, we met with two representatives from the Department of Education, passionate about improving student outcomes by creating better communication between students, parents and administrators. Megan McTiernan, of GradGuru, discussed her progress in this space. GradGuru helps students finish community college faster by working with the colleges and providing community college students with custom and just-in-time nudges on their phones about important academic and administrative deadlines, as well as college know-how. Students are expected to manage complex and often confusing information when navigating community college, while often simultaneously working full time jobs. By bringing important information right to students' fingertips, students can meet expectations and more easily stay on track to graduate on time.

On Monday night, the five accelerator companies presented at an AT&T Foundry Futurecast event hosted at 1776, a tech incubator in the heart of Washington. Each of the accelerator companies demonstrated their products to a curious and engaged group. I presented Quill and a number of people tried Quill Proofreader, our proofreading tool. We then listened as Steve Case discussed with Andrew Keen the importance of creating balanced government regulations so that all players in the technology space can succeed.

On Tuesday, we met with a rep from the White House's Executive Office. They are passionate about improving student outcomes by bringing more rigor into ed-tech product evaluations.

This spoke to the core of Karl Rectanus’ work at LearnTrials. There’s been an explosion of educational apps over the last two years, and the need is greater than ever to apply a rigorous and empirical analysis to products so that students are using the best possible tools. Learn is using both quantitative data analysis and qualitative teacher reviews to assess the efficacy of educational products. Given the need and difficulty of assessing these products, it's vital that our elected officials push forward on efficacy evaluation products to ensure taxpayer funds spent on each ed-tech component will drive student achievement forward.

On Wednesday morning, we received presentation training from VOX Global. When a company is still in its infancy, its story is its most powerful weapon. VOX helped the five companies refine and distill their messages. Ben Levy, the founder of EduCanon, delivered three pitches over the course of the training session, each subsequent pitch delivering greater emotional resonance and clarity. It's difficult to tell a compelling story in 60 seconds, and Ben succinctly delivered a vision of how EduCanon empowers teachers to supercharge video with interactive elements. All five companies left the event with a finely tuned pitch.

In the afternoon we met with a venture capitalist and he pressed us not to think of ourselves as having a double bottom line, where doing good for the world and generating revenue are two independent objectives, but rather to have a single bottom line, where the work itself is directly focused on making a positive impact. The venture capitalist’s organization made a strong impact on the quality of the schools in its community. Jason Young, cofounder of Mindblown Labs, shared his work on improving financial capability in his local community. Mindblown's first product, Thrive n’ Shine, trains young people to make excellent financial and life decisions. Ben also spent an hour meeting with each of us founders individually to help us chart our growth and fundraising strategies.

The Accelerator companies are thankful to Jacob Saperstein, Michael Beaudoin and Sandro Olivieri for organizing the AT&T Aspire Accelerator program. By building a remote accelerator, where companies meet in a different city each time, we can connect with partners all over the country, while remaining connected with our teams. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with my fellow Accelerator companies and meeting AT&T executives in Dallas in September.

CATEGORY: Education