Shanthi Ayyadhury worries that today’s children won’t be ready for science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) jobs in the future. That’s why she decided to launch IFLEED Institute of Math and Science.
Shanthi is a natural educator—she began tutoring math at age 12. She has dedicated her life to enriching young minds and training the teachers who work with them. Originally from Singapore, she moved from Chicago to Wausau in 2017. Then, she said, “I wanted to find extra tutoring for my son, and there was nothing. We found lots of opportunities for sports but nothing educational.” When she complained to her husband, he said, “Why don’t you do it yourself?”
Entrepreneurship was financially feasible for the couple. Shanthi just needed to find the right location and work-life balance to start a business and raise a five-year-old child.
Finding the right location was key to opening IFLEED. Shanthi wanted somewhere safe for children, with parking and good highway access, at a reasonable price. While she looked, she researched how to start a business online.
ETP program helped Shanthi prepare
Shanthi found the Entrepreneurial Training Program (ETP) offered by the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at UW-Stevens Point, enrolled, and met Director Melissa Meschke. The program is a nine-week class that combines instruction, guest speakers, and hands-on work, designed for people who are considering starting a business as well as owners of existing businesses. Participants have three months to complete a business plan after the initial workshop. “People who go through the program show enormous growth,” Melissa said. “It’s interesting to see how the program is applicable at all different business stages.”
Shanthi drove from Wausau to Stevens Point to attend the weekly class. She was surprised at the low fee, which is offset by scholarships for those who complete their business plans. “It was the best $250 I ever spent,” she said. She appreciated learning the importance of a business plan and the legalities of running a small business, but most helpful, she found, was “sitting with like-minded people, having continuous support, and making connections with people. Some things are not written anywhere. You have to learn from people who have been through it.”
She appreciated the positive support system while writing her business plan, working 1:1 with Melissa on the financial and logistic aspects of the business like how to set prices and take payments. UW-Stevens Point SBDC consultant Mark Speirs became her “guru” on how to use Quickbooks accounting software.
Accomplishments with the SBDC at UW-Stevens Point:
- Business plan
- Consulting on business launch
- Connections and referrals
Getting the word out brought success
Shanthi opened IFLEED in September 2018, with her first after-school program completely enrolled. In the bright, well-lit IFLEED classrooms, children work together in groups to explore a topic like gravity or the transfer of energy. “They always take a product home,” Shanthi explained. “The goal is that the conversations continue” with their parents, nurturing their excitement about learning.
In her second semester, she expanded her offerings and served five times as many students. At the request of her customers, she developed a summer program. By fall 2019, she expects to hire additional staff.
To build her business, Shanthi uses Facebook (boosting posts, not buying advertising) and distributing flyers where parents are likely to be. Melissa said, “She did a great job getting the word out.” Melissa and Shanthi continue to meet to work on refining IFLEED’s marketing program.
Looking forward, Shanthi plans to grow slowly “so we can continue to do a good job,” she said. Melissa added, “She had a brilliant business idea, and it’s been a pleasure watching her pursue it.”