Quill is a free literacy tool that provides activities to engage students in writing, grammar, and proofreading. But the tool wasn’t always that way. Participating in edtech accelerators helped get us there.
Quill wasn’t grown in just one accelerator. As of October of 2015, Quill has participated in three accelerator programs: LearnLaunch, Fast Forward, and AT&T Aspire. Each program has its own theory about how to best accelerate companies, based on the insights and experiences of each program’s founders.
What to Consider Before Joining an Accelerator
Accelerator programs can you connect you to mentors, investors and teammates. However, you’ll get the most out of the program if you participate in it with at least one additional co-founder. Accelerator programs tend to present a number of opportunities, and it can be difficult to take advantage of all of them if you are in the program by yourself.
Additionally, if you have not yet built your MVP (or minimum viable product), you should ask yourself if you're willing to primarily focus on that during the accelerator. After all, it can be difficult to both build your core product and create new partnerships presented by the accelerator simultaneously. Thanks to seed funding received from the Literacy Courseware Challenge, Quill joined three accelerator programs after having built the core product, and we were able to take advantage of a number of opportunities because we had something other people could see and use.
But whether or not you've got an MVP, the biggest question is this—which accelerator is right for you?
THE BRASS TACKS: LearnLaunch is a Boston-based accelerator devoted to accelerating educational technology organizations. The educational publishing industry has a strong regional presence, and the LearnLaunch founders have brought together hundreds of folks from within the industry. For example, during Mentor Madness, the LearnLaunch team introduces the cohort to over 40 mentors during a two-week period. We spoke with edtech developers, curriculum creators, educational publishing industry veterans, game designers and venture capitalists. From these meetings, we put together a team of mentors who helped us design our product, wireframe our teacher dashboards and develop our sales strategy.
PROS: LearnLaunch is especially helpful for organizations that are ready to monetize their product or form partnerships with publishing companies. We launched our premium product while in LearnLaunch and acquired 23 paying schools by the end of the program. Additionally, LearnLaunch provides comprehensive classes and a strong network in Boston.
TAKE NOTE: As mentioned above, yes, LearnLaunch has strong presence in Boston. But that means you will likely take better advantage of the connections made in the program if you stay in Boston and work out of LearnLaunch after the accelerator. It's definitely something to consider when picking up and moving to the East Coast.
2. Fast Forward
THE BRASS TACKS: Fast Forward is a San Francisco-based accelerator devoted to technology nonprofits. Tech nonprofits face the dual challenge of both scaling a technology product and building a nonprofit fundraising system. This accelerator program—the only one of its kind focused on tech nonprofits—prepares its organizations to handle these challenges. During our weekly Fast Forward meetings, we connected with a wide range of nonprofit and tech mentors who intimately understood the challenges of scaling an early stage organization. The speakers include Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, and Oliver Hurst Hiller, CTO of DonorsChoose.
PROS: Fast Forward is an exceptional program because it is a rare opportunity to work alongside other nonprofit founders. It can be extremely difficult to figure out how to get started as a nonprofit, and it’s inspiring to be around a group of audacious folks going through the same challenges. Among the eight other participants, the educational technology nonprofits included CareerVillage (a StackOverflow for career advice), IGottaMakeIt (an online school for legal hustles), and TalkingPoints (a multi-lingual parent teacher communication platform). By sharing best practices and brainstorming with these other groups, we were able to form long-lasting connections and a support structure that will accelerate our growth moving forward.
TAKE NOTE: Fast Forward is dedicated solely to nonprofits. Sorry, for-profit companies. The accelerator also meets from noon till 8pm every Wednesday throughout the program, and you should apply only if you are ready to fully commit yourself to a hands-on, intensive program.
3. AT&T Aspire
THE BRASS TACKS: The AT&T Aspire Accelerator is unique in that it is not tied to a single city. Rather than relocating, Aspire companies meet once every six weeks in a different city. Over the six-month program, we met in San Francisco, Dallas, and Washington D.C. AT&T has an extensive network, and during these three-day meetings, we connected with a number of influential people in the space. For example, I was able to sit down and spend time talking about our challenges with Ben Jealous, a partner at Kapor Capital, and Betsy Corcoran, CEO of EdSurge.
PROS: AT&T is a large organization, and during the program, the company connected us to a number of senior executives within public relations, marketing, sales and partnerships. These executives provided us with great advice about how to grow our business and create successful partnerships. AT&T Aspire also supports a number of conferences in the educational technology space, and they provided our cohort with special access to these conferences. For example, during the ISTE conference, Aspire partnered with Project Tomorrow to assemble a focus group of educators who provided valuable feedback.
As a remote accelerator, the Aspire program is accessible for any entrepreneur in the country, and it provides unparalleled access to an extensive network of people within the national educational technology space.
TAKE NOTE: The AT&T Aspire Accelerator has partnered with GSV and provides a free co-working space at GSV Labs in Redwood City. This space contains a number of edtech companies, and you may want to consider relocating to the Bay Area to take advantage of the space.
But what about all of the other accelerators?
Every accelerator program has its own strengths, and by speaking with the founders of each program, you can get a clearer sense of how each program will help you grow. Or, talk to companies that have gone through the accelerator you’re looking into. Each one—whether LearnLaunch, Aspire, or something else—presents unique opportunities, and as long as you have a team and a product idea, you’ll be able to best take advantage of the opportunities presented.