Entrepreneurship: Spark Academy
This article was originally published at The Clubhou.se
theClubhou.se member Courtney Hatcher has started up Spark Academy here in Augusta. Spark Academy focuses on STEM education classes for children ages 3-10. Welcome, Courtney!
1. What is the business?
Spark Academy offers innovative, hands-on STEM enrichment learning for children ages 3-10. We focus on hands-on labs in beginning science concepts with tie-ins to engineering and math, and also offer LEGO robotics classes with WeDo computer programming. We offer summer camps and on-site, after-school enrichment with partners at various locations/schools around the area. More here: www.sparkacademygeorgia.com.
2. When and where did you found it?
I founded Spark because I have a love for teaching and I had seen how much fun my nephews were having and how much they were learning through the STEM enrichment classes they were taking in the Washington, D.C. area. I wanted my boys (4 and 6) to have a similar experience. So, I pursued licensing and I got certified in the ideaventions(R) curriculum. Soon after, I started Spark Academy in Augusta in April of 2015, created my own website and offered my first camps that summer.
3. Where is the business now?
We are now offering classes at Open Door Preschool, Augusta Prep, Episcopal Day School (EDS), and MAES Education Center. We are excited about new partnerships with The Clubhouse and Hope for Augusta starting this summer. I am hoping to grow slowly and sustainably. I have hired one teacher to teach alongside me and hope to add another in the next 6 -8 months.
4. What were you like in school?
I was the classic hard-worker; things didn’t always come easily, but I worked hard. I wish I had been more focused on curiosity and inquisitiveness and less about performance. I loved science and government, music and sports.
5. Any extra-curricular activities?
Currently, I am coaching my 8th year of Girls’ Lacrosse at Lakeside High School. I love the girls, building a team, coaching to character, and seeing them develop. We have grown from one team of 15 girls to two teams of 24 (JV and V) and have gone to the playoffs each of the last six years.
6. Any significant experiences/skills that (with hindsight) influenced your business?
My background in Human Resources from Morris Communications has helped tremendously. All that I learned about teaching, developing curriculum, corporate strategy, execution, technology (computer programs, website development), online marketing, HR, and compliance has really helped so much. I am so thankful for my time there and for my mentors that I still keep in touch with.
7. Any previous entrepreneurial experience? Lessons learned?
I’m new at this thing. As my husband says, we just wanted to offer some summer camps and he (being a lawyer) encouraged me to incorporate…now here we are! It’s a roller coaster, but it’s exciting and very, very rewarding.
8. What appealed to you about entrepreneurship?
I liked the idea of starting something new and offering something that didn’t currently exist.
9. How did you get the idea?
I have a passion for education and I really wanted to teach an innovative, hands-on curriculum. I was inspired by Ryan and Juliana, the founders of ideaventions(R) in the D.C. area. (Www.ideaventions.com) I know how important STEM education is to our children and to our future.
10. How has your idea progressed over time?
I started out just offering a couple weeks of summer camp and the business has evolved into multiple year-round, on-site partnerships.
11. How did you fund the business?
I started with $500 out of savings. Since then I have managed expenses very tightly. By doing classes on-site and requiring minimum registrations we are able to offer a great service with great convenience to parents and also avoid overhead and fixed costs like having a building and rent, utilities, etc. It’s scalable.
12. How did you market your business?
I have marketed through a website, a Facebook page, as well as Twitter and Instagram. I do email marketing through Mailchimp. I have done some Facebook ads/boosts. We were featured once on The Dish and also were fortunate enough to have a newspaper article written on us last summer. (http://newstimes.augusta.com/ccnt/2015-07-20/kids-exceise-their-minds-at-this-science-camp)
13. How did you choose who to hire (if applicable)?
I have one employee and she found me. She was sending her son to the classes and has a fantastic science and teaching background. One day, she mentioned she was interested in teaching, and we progressed from there.
14. Who are your main competitors?
Any other after-school enrichment or camps, but I don’t really focus on competition, I don’t have time for that and I prefer to focus on the students and teaching.
15. What does a typical day involve for you? How does that compare to your team (if applicable). How has this changed over time?
As a mom a lot of my day is focused on my kids, and my Spark Academy work is thankfully flexible. I usually work while they are at school and/or after they go to bed. I teach classes various weekdays in the early afternoon. My schedule is variable, and that’s something I’m learning to embrace.
16. Favorite books?
“The Wingfeather Saga”, by Andrew Peterson, “The Chronicles of Narnia”, by C.S. Lewis, and any biographies or historical fiction that are good reads. Currently reading “The Art of The Start”, by Guy Kawasaki and “The Lord of The Rings”.
17. Favorite movies?
Dead Poet’s Society, John Adams (HBO series), The Hunger Games
18. Favorite entrepreneurs?
My father-in-law and grandfather-in-law. My mother, who was a teacher and created her own summer enrichment camp in the 80s.
19. Best piece of advice?
I recently read “Growth Mindset” by Carol Dweck. She focuses on embracing challenges as opportunities to learn and bringing a growth mindset to every situation.
20. What is next for your business?
Summer camps! We are thrilled to be offering some new camps at theClubhou.se this summer for ages 3-10. We will offer ideaventions’ LEGO(R) Jr. Robotics (underwater search for Atlantis theme), ideaventions’ Chemical Reactions camp, and ideaventions’ Oceanography camp. Details here: http://theclubhou.se/camps/ and here: http://www.sparkacademygeorgia.com/current-labs.html
21. What next for you?
Working on Fall partnerships and enrichment classes. Continuing to help kids gain a love for science and STEM!
22. How has working out of theClubhou.se benefitted your company?
It has been wonderful to connect with others who love STEM and who want children to be able to pursue these subjects. It is such a neat place and space to collaborate and gather and teach. We are excited to host camps here this summer!