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Saturday, January 7, 2023

Advice From 13 Successful Education Entrepreneurs on How to Take the Plunge Into Non-Traditional Schooling

It’s a great time to be an education entrepreneur.

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It’s a great time to be an education entrepreneur! Parents are eager for access to a diversity of education options. They continue to explore alternatives to district schools, including homeschooling, microschooling, virtual schools, learning pods, low-cost private schools, and charter schools. 

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that public schools lost more than one million students during the pandemic, and many are not returning to a conventional classroom. Instead of competing with K-12 schooling alternatives and moving toward smaller, more personalized learning experiences for students, district schools are responding to declining enrollments by consolidating schools into much larger ones—a trend that is likely to prompt more parents to seek other learning options.

The widening gap between what parents want for their children’s education and what mass schooling currently offers creates greater opportunities for today’s education entrepreneurs. 

If you are thinking about becoming an education entrepreneur in 2023, check out the advice below from several of the successful founders whom I featured on my LiberatED Podcast in 2022. These suggestions came from our podcast conversations throughout the year. The entrepreneurs range from former public school teachers who launched microschools to venture capital-backed startup founders who have built national education networks. 

Some of their advice is contradictory, such as when one founder says to jump in and get started while another one says to take it slow and steady, but all of it can be helpful on your journey to creating a new education option for families this year!

Ada Salie, founder of the Life Rediscovered microschool in Massachusetts: 

“I would say that having a community of entrepreneurs is essential. I didn’t really have that and I’ve been trying to create it. I have a small Facebook group of women who are running similar programs and we support each other just in terms of daily questions. I think that would have really helped me starting out and would have given me a little bit of a clearer path in terms of what needs to be done and what might be occupying most of my time.”

Amar Kumar, founder of KaiPod Learning, a national network of personalized learning pods

“Start with the real problem that you care about, that parents and kids and educators need solved, and then see how you can solve it. Seek out those complaints, those pain points, those problems that you hear from friends and relatives and neighbors, and then go and build those solutions.”

Manisha Snoyer, founder of Modulo.app, a platform for homeschoolers and others to customize their learning

“It’s always good to start around a personal pain point you have, but you can also just have a really cool idea of something you think people would love. And I would just say, try it out as quickly as you can. Don’t sit for a year planning how the school is going to go and rent expensive space and launch. Really get what you’re offering into people’s hands as quickly as you can.”

Emily Grégoire, founder of The Rainbow Room, a hybrid homeschooling program in Las Vegas, Nevada

“I think it’s like any sort of entrepreneurial project: you just have to get it started and it’s going to be rough. The first go at it is not going to be perfect. Do you care about children? Do you care about families? Then start, keep going, little by little.”

Molly Stephenson, cofounder of Wildflower Community School, a microschool for neurodiverse students in Wichita, Kansas 

“One of the things that was hard for us I think when starting was asserting good boundaries for ourselves, because this job will burn you out really quickly. There’s a lot of needs and–you saw the pace of our day–it doesn’t stop. You get here and usually still have cold coffee on the desk at the end of the day and it’s just very, very, very, very busy. So running a microschool, whether it has five kids in it or 35, is going to be like that and I think understanding that commitment from the beginning is important.”

Laurel Suarez, founder of Compass Outreach and Education Center, a microschool in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

“Plan, take your time, don’t feel rushed. Yes, there is a surge of microschools, but the most important thing is to research and get all of your ducks in a row, figure out who you want to serve. What’s going to be your niche? What is going to attract parents to you? And as you’re looking and building different components of your school, don’t forget to remain true to who you are and know what your mission is and stay focused and create programs that really align to who you want to serve and what you want to see.

“Don’t be distracted because a lot of times folks can listen to our dreams and they’re like, Oh my gosh, I don’t think you could. Don’t listen to that. Don’t allow others’ fears to impose upon what you believe and what you want to do. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Reach out to other existing microschools. Take your time. Don’t rush.”

Kelly Smith, founder of Prenda, a national network of learning pods and microschools 

“Do it! I feel like I see too many people in planning mode for too long. And the real learning starts when you’re living it, when you’ve got kids in there with you and you’re figuring this out together. So I would say take that leap. The world needs you. The kids in your community need you. Please start your program. Start your microschool. This work is so rewarding.”

Donna Akers, founder of Ivy Greene Acton Academy in Mississippi

“Write down your goals, break it down step by step, and then step out and do it. It’s not easy, but it is very doable. And most things that are worthwhile are not easy, so I just think go for it—open it in your home if you can’t find a place.”

Matt Bowman, founder of My Tech High, a national platform enabling families to curate a personalized educational approach 

“My advice would be what I’d say to any entrepreneur: Just start. Many want to spend a year or two or three designing, developing, and then launching. I really see the value in launching with some kind of minimum viable product and then adapt, and iterate, and pivot from there instead of trying to think that you can build a perfect education company in the closet and then launch two years later. Just get out in the market, try to do something.

“I tell students that I work with the first dollar is the hardest. So go get that first dollar instead of waiting to build it so you think it’s perfect. Go get a dollar first and then adapt and iterate from there. And then I’d also say get to your 10th failure fast. That’s a principle I was taught early on.

“My Tech High is definitely not my first company. I’m grateful that it’s successful, but I had at least 10, maybe 20, failed pursuits that really taught me things that I needed to know before My Tech High could succeed. So if you haven’t had your 10 failures, keep pushing to get your 10th failure and then the next one might just succeed.”

Toni Frallicciardi, cofounder of Surf Skate Science, a homeschool program in South Florida

 “So I think the first thing is to know why you want to do it. What are you most passionate about? If you’re chasing after what you’re most passionate about and what’s true to your heart, it’s going to do well regardless. And then just take baby steps. I think it was great that we started with just six students and now we have almost 250 students, which is crazy! So take those baby steps and when you get overwhelmed, have those people that you can go to and say, Hey, am I doing this right?”

Gayle Nagle, cofounder of the Sligo Sudbury School in Ireland

“Be aware as early on as you can of the challenges and the things that you need to know from a legal point of view. We had quite early on conversations with our planners, for example, regarding zoning, so we didn’t waste a huge amount of time going down rabbit holes, looking for different premises and expecting to be able to have a facility in a domestic dwelling or different places like that. 

“Just be really consistent and take it really seriously. We met every week, we approached it like a very serious business and we ran it as a business, taking minutes, recording our accounts very clearly, all of those things from the get go.”

Candace Fish, founder of Freedom Prep, a low-cost private school in Wichita, Kansas 

“I would say connect. Find people who are already doing it to connect with because we are more than happy to share our experience and what’s been good and what’s been bad and how to help navigate those things.”

Cassidy Younghans, founder of Wild Roots, a grassroots self-directed learning community in Dallas, Texas

“Realize that you can start over. It broke my heart when the learning community that we had ended up needing to no longer be. But I got to start over. And I got to start over with so much more wisdom, so much more information, so much more support. The amount of money that we’ve raised equals the amount of money that was initially donated to fund the old learning community. So that’s been really huge.”

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