By: Matthew Pietrafetta
I began my journey to impact entrepreneurship as a young teacher in New York City. In that role, I saw entrenched challenges such as disparities in test scores, college readiness, and student opportunities, as well as a chasm between test preparation and institutional education. Like anyone with an entrepreneurial mindset would, I began to look for ways to turn those challenges into opportunities for student growth and education innovation and quickly became passionate about the idea of revolutionizing test preparation.
For decades, educators have questioned the value of test preparation, seeing it as too focused on "teaching to the test," generic test-taking strategy for a nonexistent "average student." As I considered the problem, I began to see an alternative -- a method of test preparation that was based on academic skill development and customized for students at a wide range of achievement levels.
I founded Academic Approach in 2001 to provide a sound test preparation alternative. Fifteen years later, we've seen that our Teaching Beyond the TestTM methodology both helps students achieve the standardized test scores they need to gain admission to the colleges of their choice and positions them to excel academically in high school, college, and beyond.
Transforming test preparation into a personalized, academically enriching form of teaching is undoubtedly impactful and will always be at the core of Academic Approach's mission. In addition, I believe that to truly maximize our impact and address those questions I often ask myself about barriers to education and college access, our company must find ways to reach students in underperforming schools and underserved communities. Academic Approach has developed its school programs services to support these students and their school leaders in raising student achievement, and we have served over 50 urban schools this past year.
Academic Approach's one-on-one tutoring and school programs services make a real difference for students who strive to maximize their academic performance and compete in the college admissions process. The educators and students we serve--and their remarkable growth and attainment -- make Academic Approach a true social impact company, allowing us to bring our Teaching Beyond the TestTM methodology to a range of students, including some of those who need it most.
While I didn't necessarily imagine that my career as a teacher would lead me to a career as a social entrepreneur, now that I've gone down this road, I can't imagine taking any other.
Is impact entrepreneurship right for you?
As social impact entrepreneurs, we go beyond the entrepreneurial question "what market needs can our company address?" to ask "what social problems can we solve?"
The search for answers to questions like "How can we help all students acquire the academic skills necessary to succeed in college or career?" is what keeps me inspired as an educator and innovator at Academic Approach. If you're looking to make a difference through entrepreneurship, find the questions that hold similar inspiration for you, and then consider how you could start a company aimed at answering those questions.
How to take action as a social entrepreneur
Do you see an industry in need of innovation and a social challenge in need of a creative solution? Here are my tips for taking action:
Determine what truly matters to you. If you just want to be able to say your business makes a social impact to get attention, social entrepreneurship is not for you. To succeed as a social entrepreneur, you need to commit to driving significant change for the right reasons.
Make social impact a part of your organization's DNA. Work out how your organization can sustainably support a social mission before you launch. In my case, Academic Approach has both a teaching and social impact mission, allowing us to unify all the students we serve under a common commitment to differentiated, high-quality instruction. We are educators accountable to all of the students we serve.
Stay involved. When your idea begins to flourish, look for ways to stay involved at the ground level so you continue to understand the needs of those you serve.
Personally, I continue to tutor even as my work as a CEO grows. This has led me to work with students who have overcome tremendous odds to thrive in college, like the young entrepreneur Zoë Damacela. When Zoë was growing up, resources were limited for her family, but she was driven to succeed and wanted to show her potential to colleges.
Zoë came to Academic Approach for ACT tutoring and eventually scored a 33 out of 36. She entered Northwestern University in 2010 and has since continued to build her apparel business, gaining recognition in Chicago and nationally.
The chance to work directly with students like Zoë is a reminder of why I do what I do, and relationships like these inspire me to keep innovating when it comes to Academic Approach's impact. If you work to stay intimately connected to your organization's mission, you will better serve it in every role you play.
Every entrepreneur has the opportunity to be a social entrepreneur, and the world needs more companies committed to driving social change. Is this the path for you?
Pioneers for Change is a seed-bed for innovative thought. An activator of personal potential. A catalyst for collective energy. A community to drive social change.
Our annual, international Fellowship is open to anyone aged 28 - 108 years old. We gather change-makers -- a business person, a community person, an investor, a thinker or doer -- who are willing to harness their talents, energy and resources as a force for good. Pioneers for Change is an initiative of Adessy Associates.
Adessy Associates believes a better world is possible, and equips and enables organisations and individuals to make positive change happen, and contribute to a sustainable future. We focus on benefit for people, planet and profit. Our bespoke services harness sustainability, innovation, consciousness and purpose. We are proudly B Corp certified.
About Matthew Pietrafetta
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D. is the founder of the test-preparation company Academic Approach.