A Productive Newsletter: Back in the Saddle

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We're back from a couple of whirlwind months traipsing across the American Southwest at some of the most impactful conferences in Social Impact and Education! These three conferences are amongst my favorites, particularly because they are vastly different in audience and content. So, for each, I'll provide you with a piece of content that really affected me - I hope they have the same affect for you.


This conference has come a long way in the last few years. It's always been a great place to kick off new ventures and get lots of eyeballs, but was never something we were interested in because the content (and thus, the audience) was never focused on impact. Boy, has that changed. There's a lot I could share, but I'll just leave you with my favorite comment from the week:

Accelerate Good

This is an excellent conference run by our friends at Fast Forward. Not only are they the only accelerator dedicated exclusively to tech nonprofits, they also happen to be one of the finest accelerators out there. We've had the pleasure of working with so many entrepreneurs that have gone through this program and each one has been immensely impressive. One of them was particularly prominent on the Accelerate Good stage. HeeJae Lim - Founder of Talking Points - joined Twilio's Jeff Lawson to talk through the technologies available today to help scale out social impact ventures like hers. They've just enabled their 10 millionth conversation, and there's no slowing in sight 🚀


This conference has the most interesting and impactful cross-section of attendees of any of the conferences on our schedule. It is a cross-section of anyone who's got money to put into education, and anyone who's looking to raise money in education. I've never seen a busier hotel lobby as edtech entrepreneurs try to create serendipity and find some time with a potential new investor. This year was particularly good for us as we were asked to moderate a panel at the conference on the topic of "Empowering the Parent as an Educator". I was glad to be involved and even more glad that this important topic got some stage time. Spoiler Alert: I hijacked the topic and made it about equity ⚖️💪🏽

What Are We Reading?

It would be fairly accurate to say that I've mostly been reading email follow-ups from conferences, but I I carved some time out for the one important piece:

Investing in Population-Level Change - Jim Shelton has been working on this for several years, and we've been huge fans of the work. Few people talk about the collective responsibility we all have to our children in the same way that he does, and he highlights a few of the ways major players can (and should) contribute. It should be no surprise that our favorite  point is the way he describes how "Business can play a transformative role" - Shelton says that "US philanthropy typically ignores the potential of for-profit companies to help create, implement, and scale innovative solutions to domestic challenges."

Not only do we believe in this, we work hard at it, and our clients can attest to the innovative solutions we've helped them create to solve the challenges inherent in their communities. Its our life work, and we're proud to do it.

If you're making impact investments, do corporate philanthropy, are thinking about getting into either of those fields, and want to know how to do it better - let us help you!

Where Will We See You Next?

We'll be kicking off the 5th cohort of the AT&T Aspire Accelerator in late May, and we couldn't be more excited. AT&T has made its choices for the 8 startups joining the program this year, and we'll be happy to talk about them with you as soon as we're able. They'll be joining a distinguished group of alumni who now collectively reach over 23 million students, and raised over $35m in additional capital after AT&T investment.

We are sworn to secrecy, but you can try and hit us up anyway ;)

A Productive Newsletter: Kicking Off 2019!

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Impact Across Sectors

Porductive is fortunate to work across several impact areas. From education all the way through sustainability, we’ve been helping our clients drive impact through the acceleration of technology startups in those areas. And we’re accelerating ourselves by taking it up a level early this year with big updates on our programs with AT&T and DIRECTV Latin America.

AT&T’s $1m Student Skills Challenge

Productive has signed on for a fifth year in a row to help AT&T administer its Aspire Accelerator program. This year, we’re getting a little more focused in our startup search to multiply the acceleration we can deliver. We’re doing this by committing $1m to go toward startups focusing on directly building student skills that will prepare them for STEM careers in the future.

“AT&T is offering money for eight companies and nonprofits that focus on ways to prepare students for careers, including STEM fields. AT&T aims to give each winner a $100,000 investment along with $25,000 to cover costs of its Aspire Accelerator.”

So, if you are an edtech startup founder helping to build student skills, or know one that should apply, please have them reach out to me directly or apply here.

DirecTV’s Best Use of Technology for Sustainability Prize

We're joining DirecTV Latin America on their second year of sponsoring the Best Use of Technology in Sustainability Award. This award is part of the largest green innovation competition in Latin America - Los Premios Latinoámerica Verde - and the 3 winners of the prize were chosen from thousands of applicants across Latin America. 

DirecTV is flying the three winning startups to The Bay Area where they will participate in a mini-acceleration workshop designed by Productive. We'll take our fully customized approach to acceleration to help the winners make in-roads to potential Bay Area customers, partners, and investors.

Please Join Us! We'll be hosting a LatAm Sustainable Tech Pitch Award Event with our partners at Runway to highlight the three winners. Come join us for some networking, food, and drinks!

What Are We Reading?

Pardon me, but this section will be a little self serving today :) Our series on accelerator design was picked up by The Startup - Medium's largest publication for makers. They've re-published our first two entries and they will be publishing the rest of the series as it comes out. There'll be a third post next week, so make sure to subscribe to the Productive account so you don't miss out!

Where Will We See You Next?

  • We'll be at the Corporate Accelerator Forum's workshop on "Metrics, Storytelling, & Communication for Corporate/Startup Programs". We've been involved with this group since the beginning and we're very excited to continue the learning with others in our field. See you there?

  • Please Join Us for the "LatAm Sustainable Tech Pitch Award Event" at the Runway incubator to talk about Latin American innovation and sustainability in general over some light food and drinks!

A Productive Newsletter: Accelerator Design

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The Spirit of Giving

Welcome to the end of another year. Like the authors of the other newsletters you're getting right about now, I've been doing some reflecting. I'll save you time and not list out our accomplishments this year. Instead, I'll dive right into the results of that reflection ;)

The truth is that we've learned so much in our four years of designing and implementing acceleration programs. One of the primary things we've learned is how disruptive and harmful poorly designed accelerator programs can be for the startups they purport to serve. Entrepreneurs think twice about applying to programs that could take their eyes off the ball - and they should be! Time and attention are precious resources that can't be spent on programs that won't convert them into meaningful growth.

So, 2019 is going to be a full year of giving for us and we're starting now. We're going to start sharing all the lessons we've learned in creating truly impactful accelerator programs for corporations, foundations, and governments. We think we've come up with a great model to build programs that truly accelerate startups and create massive value for the entities that run the programs, but we're not deluded enough to assume we have all the answers.

Below are links to the first two posts in a new series dissecting the "Anatomy of an Accelerator", using our work with the AT&T Aspire Accelerator as an example. This is meant to start conversations, so please reach out if you agree, disagree, find a typo, or want to learn more about our work!

Sourcing the Best EdTech

AT&T will be opening up applications for the 5th cohort of the Aspire Accelerator in January. They've asked us to help them find the best EdTech talent out there that might benefit from their program. So, we're hoping you know someone :)

AT&T is looking for both for- and non-profit startups who have a technology-enabled intervention. They're particularly interested in interventions in the PreK-12 age range that help specifically build student skills.

The program is accompanied by $100k of investment and does not require relocation. Applications don't open until January 7th, but if you know someone that fits the bill and could benefit from the program, please refer them directly to me.

What Are We Reading?

The "Dirty Secret" of Educational Innovation
My wife is fond of pointing out that "If you build it, they won't necessarily come" and that's what I was thinking about when reading this. Just making data available to the public does not mean they'll make responsible conclusions from it. When I look at this report and apply a portfolio lens to the Dept of Education's Investing in Innovation Fund investments, I see some real bright spots.

  • Only 1 of 67 programs studied had negative effects. For a program investing in innovative delivery of education, this is a huge win

  • 18 had positive gains in learning. If you had a fund and 26% of your portfolio was over performing, you'd be thrilled

  • Another 18 were thrown out because of problems with the study. That means that a full 36 of the programs are delivering at least the average learning, and could be delivering in other ways. Maybe they focus on more sensitive populations, maybe they deliver with cheaper tech-enabled methods, etc...

I recommend anyone interested read the excellentreport. It's an exciting time for innovation in education!

Where Will We See You Next?

We're thrilled to be working with DirecTV Latin America again this year on enabling a mini-acceleration workshop in January! The three winners of a "Best Use of Technology in Sustainability" prize  will be flying up to the Bay Area where we are putting together a bunch of programming to help them get to the next level. If you're around onWednesday, January 30thand would like to meet the best and brightest startups working on Sustainablity, let us know!

A Productive Newsletter: New Beginnings

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Last week was bittersweet. Through our work with the AT&T Aspire Acceleratorprogram, we held a graduation event for the eight incredible social impact organizations we've been working with over the past 6 months. Celebrating these organizations was the sweet part. Our team has helped these impact-focused entrepreneurs accelerate their visions of reaching more kids in more places. It has been an amazing experience, and we're a little bitter that it's coming to an end.

The truth is, there's nothing to be bitter about. These eight organizations now join a group of alumni that gets more impressive after every class. These 27 organizations, and their impact on our education system, represent the body of impact work that we've helped create with our client:

  • To date, AT&T Aspire Accelerator companies have extended their impact to 22.6 million students.

  • Others are noticing the impact our entrepreneurs are having too! To date, Aspire companies have raised an additional $35 million in investment dollars after the initial AT&T investment.

  • And perhaps my favorite part: these organizations are creating opportunity for more people to get involved in this work. They’ve created 149 new jobs in their social impact organizations collectively. 

Though I will miss working with these eight organizations on a day to day basis, that feeling is quickly surpassed by a feeling of tremendous gratefulness for the opportunity to work with them.


What do you think?

I've struggled with what the voice of this newsletter should be. I think I've decided that I'm going to stick to telling the stories of impact from our clients, and the entrepreneurs we work with through them. We are privileged to be a part such extraordinary work, and sharing with as many people as possible makes the most sense to me. As always, please reach out to me directly if you'd like to learn more about our work or would like to talk to us about yours - we'd love to hear about it and help if we can!


What Are We Reading?


Where Will We See You Next?

A Productive Newsletter: Welcome!

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A few years ago, we  left our corporate jobs with the hopes of putting our efforts towards much more impactful work. Looking back on the last four years, I am happy to report that we've surpassed our own expectations. This is the first issue of our newsletter, wherein you can expect to hear about some of the work we've done for our incredible clients, what we've learned about effectively running impact investment programs, and amazing stories of the people we've met along the way.

At this point, you might be saying to yourself: "That sounds great! Who are you again?" and that would be a fair question.

The short answer is that we are Sandro Olivieri and Amy Mandrier and we run a company called Productive. Maybe you've interacted with us through our work running the AT&T Aspire Accelerator Program? Perhaps we met you through our work in helping DirecTV fund the most innovative sustainability tech in Latin America? We may have just met at a conference or meet up.

Here are our faces if that helps jog your memory:


It's ok if you don't remember. If you're on this list, it's because we know you share our passion for impact and that governments and corporates can be at the forefront of positive change for our communities.

At Productive, with the help of our clients, we've figured out a thing or two about how to design programs to drive positive social impact and we're hoping that's something you'd like to read about. You can expect to read a bit about how we designed and implemented one of the premier EdTech Accelerator programs in the US, profiles of the amazing social impact entrepreneurs we've worked with along the way, some best practices in corporate/startup relations, and news of our work.

We're excited to start this dialogue with you. You can expect our first official newsletter next week, and an update once a month (with news as merited). We’ll post updates here, but if you’d like to receive them straight in your inbox, please let us know!


What Are We Reading?

These are not all "current", but since this is our first newsletter, I wanted to share some of the things that have gotten me thinking over the past few months.

  • Mixed feelings about this suggested level of rigor before an EdTech company can get to revenue.

  • Encouraging to see this model emerge as an alternative to the above.

  • Not so much reading as much as listening to the last season of StartUp, wherein we have fallen in love with Harlan’s use of the term “underestimated” to replace “underrepresented” founders.


Where Will We See You Next?

  • We’re enabling the AT&T Aspire Accelerator graduation on Nov 7th and 8th in San Francisco. If you're in the area and would like to come meet our graduating entrepreneurs, let us know!

  • We'll be enabling DirecTV's Best Use of Technology for Sustainability award again this year. We'll host the winners here in the Bay Area in January. Please let us know if you're interested in meeting the winners!