6 Things For-Profit and Nonprofit Startups Can Learn From Each Other

By Anne Wintroub, Director of Social Innovation, AT&T
Nov 28, 2017 3:45 PM ET

Connect To Good

At AT&T, we believe great ideas can come from anywhere and impact kids and communities everywhere. That’s why we designed the AT&T Aspire Accelerator to support startups across the country, both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

We’ve had 3 classes come through the AT&T Aspire Accelerator. And we’ve learned that the differences in our startups’ structures is a great opportunity to collaborate and learn. We asked 2 of our current cohort members, one that leads a nonprofit and one a for-profit, to share the lessons they’ve learned from each other.

3 Things For-Profits Can Learn from Nonprofits

From Amy Satin Spinelli, CEO and Co-founder of for-profit Earshot

1. We are all lean start-ups.

Just like for-profit businesses, ed-tech nonprofits stay focused on their core mission, while constantly building, measuring and learning. I’ve learned nonprofits approach growth the same way we do. They build their customer base in a cost-effective manner, while remaining flexible and adaptable to ensure they are meeting the needs of the communities they serve.

2. Nonprofits are tenacious.

I greatly respect the work of my nonprofit peers. These entrepreneurs are in the trenches to really understand the needs of those they serve. They spend countless hours working with students, teachers, parents and family members. And they’re not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get involved with humility to achieve their goals.

3. Their dedication and passion are contagious.

Nonprofit entrepreneurs are great evangelists for their causes. So much so that I’ve found myself becoming more invested in their issues, too. These organizations have taught me the power of communicating my passion to move mountains. The problems we try to solve are complex. Enthusiasm is important to maintain focus and perseverance.

3 Things Nonprofits Can Learn from For-Profits

From Khalil Fuller, CEO and Founder of nonprofit Learn Fresh

1. Impact is the North Star.

For-profit companies have the same incredible dedication to making a meaningful impact as any of the best nonprofits. We’re all aiming to positively change education and create opportunities for students who need it most. No one is just chasing a "market opportunity."

2. It's all about the team.

The for-profit entrepreneurs build teams of deeply talented people. I’ve been inspired by how for-profits approach structuring and nurturing their teams. And I’ve learned many lessons from them about onboarding, leading and managing that I will use for years to come.

3. Revenue will set you free.

Possibly the most impactful thing I've learned from for-profit companies is the importance of revenue. Specifically, how earned revenue doesn’t have to be at odds with reaching the most underserved students. They’ve challenged my assumptions on what it means to have schools and districts pay for your product. And for-profits have educated me about processes and tactics I can use with my own organization.

To learn more, go to att.com/aspireaccelerator.