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Founder’s Feature: Mialisa Bonta

LitLab promotes literacy through tech

Mialisa Bonta has always had a passion for literacy and has dedicated much of her career to assisting young children and their families with overcoming educational barriers.


But it wasn’t until her youngest daughter, who was a struggling reader, created her own method of learning by playing back voice recordings on her tablet, that Bonta got the idea to start LitLab, a tech-enabled non-profit focused on reading support for the underserved.


“Every single time [my daughter] was recording her voice and reading the book to herself, her fluency was increasing,” Bonta says.  “It was smoother every single time she read it; she used different voices, and she was just into it.”


As excited as she was about her daughter’s progress, the mother of three was also acutely aware that a tablet is not an affordable option for everyone. Previous work in the field exposed her to low-income and immigrant communities where supplemental tools did not often come easy. “My experience was one of incredible frustration,” Bonta says. “So what is it like for parents who have so many other things in their lives presenting barriers?”


With those barriers in mind, Bonta launched the pilot program for LitLab, using seed funding and resources from a number of grants. The program provides direct support to early learners and their families through access to high-quality, interactive literacy resources; local-level educational advocacy, and use of technology to customize learning. LitLab’s utility app, Lumen, facilitates tablet-based learning by gathering usage data of curated educational apps and e-libraries. The app converts a child's experience on a device to actionable intel that parents and caregivers can use to create more learning moments for their early learner.


Bonta’s dive into entrepreneurship didn’t come without its challenges. She had to learn the start-up business from the ground up, including how to sell her idea to investors.


“I have a need to be pretty authentic about what we’re offering,” Bonta says. “I’m not shiny or super charismatic. I’m just like, ‘We’re doing good stuff, and what we do is really connected to whom we want to serve’.”


As a member of AT&T’s Aspire Accelerator, Bonta has been able to take LitLab to the next level and continue to serve a community that often gets left behind with the rapid advancement of technology. In 2015, AT&T launched the AT&T Aspire Accelerator to support and mentor the most promising and innovative startups in ed-tech. Selected for- and non-profit organizations receive financial investment, access to expert services and mentorship.


“I think moments where parents have these very quiet successes are why we exist and why we’re doing what we’re doing, where parents are like, ‘Yeah, I’m doing something good for our kids.’”


[Sidebar: 3 Lessons Learned from Aspire Accelerator]

Three tips of LitLab’s Founder Mailisa Bonta

  1. Accelerator really does mean acceleration, so be ready for it!
  2. Learn the process around product development, even if you don’t have a technical background.
  3. Have a strong point-of-view and a belief in what you’re trying to do, and stay true to that over time.


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