At the intersection of education and technology, working with the most creative minds.
GUEST COLUMN | by Anne Wintroub
As part of AT&T’s Aspire initiative – which accelerates the learning revolution and connects it with the young people who need it most– we’ve invested more than $350 million to help ensure all students have access to the skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. We know that in order to truly accomplish this mission, we must look to those “on the ground”: the teachers and inventors who are creating solutions for our students using the power of technology.
When we first launched the AT&T Aspire Accelerator in 2015, it was with the goal of finding and fostering the ideas of these very individuals, who represent the most innovative, groundbreaking startups in edtech.
We know that in order to truly accomplish this mission, we must look to those ‘on the ground’ – the teachers and inventors who are creating solutions for our students using the power of technology.
Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most creative minds in the edtech startup world. I find myself constantly learning from these folks and rethinking where learning and technology intersect. This past year, I’ve been able to work with companies like Bitsbox, which teaches school-aged kids to love coding, and Cogent Education, a company developing “interactive case studies” that allow students to solve real-world problems by applying the scientific method and real time teacher feedback. We also worked hand in hand with Talking Points, an organization that connects educators, parents and students through a multilingual texting platform allowing educators to communicate with parents in their own languages via two-way translation.
In addition to the $100,000 financial investment and mentorship from AT&T, the participating startups benefit from working with other industry pioneers. For that reason, we created an Accelerator Board of Advisors made up of leading innovators from education and technology – Charles Best, the Founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, Sebastian Thrun, the Founder and CEO of Udacity, and Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code – just to name a few. As is the case with any startup, and particularly within edtech, the input and feedback from those that have made waves in the industry is invaluable.
I often have people ask me what the true role of technology in education should be. For me, the answer is as simple as looking at the other industries we engage every day – retail, transportation, healthcare. 20, 15, even 10 years ago, technology wasn’t a critical piece of the puzzle in these arenas. Today, you couldn’t imagine life without the technology we have so readily available – when we check out at the grocery store, when we’re waiting for the next train to come, or when we’re trying to find and book a doctor’s appointment. Why should education be any different?
We know that the jobs of tomorrow will require skills steeped in technology. We also realize that today’s students live surrounded by technology that wasn’t a reality for the generations before them. Technology can improve how students learn both in and out of the classroom. We truly believe that the startups that have been and will be a part of the AT&T Aspire Accelerator will be the individuals helping to shape what the future of edtech will look like, and we’re excited to be along for this important ride.
 The Accelerator welcomes for profit and no-profit companies. The non-profit companies receive charitable contributions instead of investments.
Anne Wintroub is the Director of Social Innovation at AT&T and runs the Aspire Accelerator program, which is accepting applications for the 2017 class thru February 7. Visit www.att.com/aspireaccelerator to learn more.