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Giving Promising EdTech Startups a Leg Up: The Aspire Accelerator Program

The Aspire Accelerator supports great educational companies of tomorrow and empowers diversity in entrepreneurship across the country.

The jobs of today and tomorrow demand a tech-savvy, robust and diverse talent pipeline. Unfortunately, the need is outpacing the supply. Nearly 40 percent of American employers say they cannot find people with the skills they need. Almost 60 percent complain job seekers are not prepared to tackle even entry-level jobs. All told, over six million jobs are unfilled in the U.S. today.

Improving education and developing the 21st-century workforce will require corporations to collaborate with educators and community organizations to grow programs that work. That’s why AT&T is committed to helping students succeed in school and develop the skills they need to thrive in their careers and their lives. Technology is a significant part of the equation.

“Technology is making it easier for everybody — regardless of age, gender, geography or income — to learn anytime, anywhere,” says Charlene Lake, senior vice president for Corporate Social Responsibility, AT&T. “Innovations in technology remove physical barriers associated with learning. That’s extraordinarily important to the future success of students and the workforce.”
Aspire is AT&T’s signature philanthropic initiative that prepares people for careers in technology, media and telecommunications, and helps more students graduate high school. The program was launched 10 years ago to provide access to education and training that enable people to acquire or keep good jobs.

In addition to working with various organizations to promote educational opportunities, AT&T also seeks to scale the best new educational technology ideas through Aspire Accelerator. The program, started in 2015, offers support and mentoring to innovative edtech startups.

“We started the Aspire Accelerator to empower early stage organizations developing education technologies,” says Anne Wintroub, director, Social Innovation, AT&T. “These are ideas we see as having the greatest potential to positively affect students, teachers and parents across the globe.”
Every year AT&T selects six to 10 companies to work with for six months. All selected companies get access to an array of AT&T resources. The program is highly competitive. In 2018, AT&T received nearly 400 applications and accepted just eight companies.

Diversity plays a significant role in the selection process.

“In addition to supporting the great educational companies of tomorrow, we are also empowering diversity in entrepreneurship across the country,” says Wintroub. “We pledge that for each class at least half of the members will be people of color or women, and from areas of the country that are not tech hotbeds.”

After six months, the companies graduate, but remain part of the Aspire Accelerator community. So far, AT&T has accelerated a total of 27 companies. The 2018 class reflects a diverse set of backgrounds — geographically, culturally, ethnically or professionally — and is committed to taking on an entirely new and unique set of challenges:

Caribu - allows any trusted adult to read and draw with children, through an interactive video call, no matter how far apart they are.

MindRight - empowers youth of color to heal from systemic oppression trauma — including structural violence, poverty, racism and discrimination — with support via text message.

Move This World - uses multimedia content to develop social skills and strengthen emotional intelligence in Pre-K through high school.

Substantial - creates training, resources and information that substitute teachers need to be successful. The program is customized and is delivered online with mobile-friendly technology.

Unruly Studios - revolutionizes learning by combining STEM education with physical play. It teaches kids how to code and gets them active.

Weird Enough Productions - teaches students how to combat fake news, identify media bias and create positive content through an edtech tool. 

Words Liive - makes it effortless for teachers to integrate music into lessons.

Zoobean - provides a web application, mobile app and prospective hardware device through which families can track their independent reading and stay motivated to read.

To inspire educators and the private sector to help prepare students for the future, download the guide, "Leading the Future for Students, for Educators, and in Technology: Transforming education today to build the workforce of tomorrow." Click here to learn more.