Today’s guest post is written by Melissa Corto of Education Modified, a company that provides educators with research-based, job-embedded professional development to increase collaboration and improve the outcomes for students with special needs. This is her second post, regarding Claiming her identity as an ed-tech entrepreneur. Read her first blog here: The Challenging Journey From Teacher to Startup CEO.
Earlier this fall I was in a workshop hosted by Village Capital where Michael Stanton, from Learn Capital, did a fireside chat. One of his topics was “Why Teachers Make Great Entrepreneurs.” (Thanks Michael, I feel even more validated about owning and smooshing together these two identities.) Recently, EdSurge also published an article, “When Teachers Build, Ed-Tech Awesomeness Ensues,” further confirming that the combination of experience and skills of educator make a great recipe for innovation.
The notion that teachers–in fact anyone–can not thrive as entrepreneurs is just rising to the surface, despite our industry’s rapid growth. So, what can other teacherpreneurs do to get to this place faster?
- Go where you are loved. While I have received some great nuggets of advice every step of the way, one of the best gems I have held onto is to stay around people who love your company, and you. When my co-founder and I were first launching our idea, we tried to fit into a scene where very few seemed to get our vision, or value our work as educators. We couldn’t quite find the support we needed as teachers-turned-entrepreneurs. We felt out of place, because we were. While entrepreneurship often seems like an uphill battle, proving the validity of your mission shouldn’t be a battle. If it is, you are talking the wrong person. When we came to Boston and found our champions, LearnLaunch, they saw the potential in our product, the potential in our company, and understood us right away. Embracing the fact that we were teachers, they appreciated that we had taken the leap to solve a problem that teachers are best equipped to solve.
- Step back and pick your heroes. It is important to take a step back and recognize when the advice you are getting is conflicting. Figure out whose advice you truly value. Sometimes, you don’t have enough information to make a decision about whether this advice is relevant to you. Sometimes, you just don’t want their advice. Once you recognize which mentors share your vision and whose opinions and experience matter the most to you, it is easier to ignore advice that is at odds with the essence of your business.
- Follow the guiding lights. Seek out other entrepreneurs. Find ones similar to you in your journey, experience and whom you admire. Make time to find those who share your values, are building great companies, are a little bit ahead of you, and have been through the gamut recently. Buy them coffee and ask them how they have dealt with conflict, and about their identity as an entrepreneur. Then listen. The best are more than willing to share their experiences; they will be honest and open and you will learn just as much, if not more, from them than from any advisor or investor.
- Stay Connected to ALL parts of you. It is such a natural part of the entrepreneurial process to get wrapped up in raising money, generating revenue, and working out of board rooms that it’s easy to forget what it’s like to sit in an IEP meeting with a 9th grader who can’t read and a parent looking for help. I have learned from other entrepreneurs (taking my own advice #3) like Alex Rappaport from Flocabulary and Sean Hookano-Briel from Comprendio, to remember why I began this journey. Keeping my eyes on what it is that I set out to do, every single day, is extremely important. To keep me forever connected to my inner teacher, I go into schools monthly, talk to teachers weekly, and mentor teenagers through BUILD. Edtech entrepreneurs need to make a conscious effort to stay intimately connected to the parts of their identity that got you here.
Building a new identity–especially one that some still see as being in conflict with your old one–takes both the alertness to navigate uncharted territory, and the reflection necessary to build confidence in yourself. Mentors and role models help us know where we belong and where we want to go. On the path to becoming a teacherpreneur, relying on the road signs, while trusting your sense of direction, will make it easier to make progress.