One of the many pleasures of getting to team up with owners of startups and small businesses is getting to listen and ask questions about their business. Short meetings can turn into long conversations about the realities of running a business. We often discuss the challenges, the rewards, and the level of effort required. These spontaneous meetings help shed some light on the world of entrepreneurship.
For that reason, I was glad when Aimee & Whitney allowed me to share a little about their journey into forming and operating DreamCatcher Curriculum, LLC. The commitment they display in carrying out their mission is evident. DreamCatcher Curriculum, LLC is successfully carrying out its mission, and the young startup grows every year! Check out what they have to say:
Q) Tell us a little about yourselves and your business!
Our company designs and creates college prep and success curriculum for middle school, high school, and college-level students. Our handouts are ready-made for classroom presentation, including a facilitator’s guide with hands-on activities and additional resources to make preparing for college easy to understand. We are currently in our fourth year of business and have 22 topics of curriculum, in addition to offering scholarships for first-generation, low-income students, and offering free downloadable resources for students and educators on our website. The mission of our company has always been to make a positive impact on the lives of college-aspiring students, especially those who could use help the very most. We want every student who desires a college education to be able to reach that dream.
Q) How did you get the idea for your business?
Aimee: As an advisor for students in the federally-funded TRIO program called Talent Search, I spent 12 years designing college-prep materials and presenting to students in 6-12th grades. Before Talent Search, I was a teacher and before that, I worked as a college advisor and recruiter. All my professional experiences contributed to designing successful college prep materials, so much so that I began to present my work at state, regional, and national educational conferences. After my sessions, TRIO professionals would frequently ask to buy my work! It was certainly flattering, but more than that, it illustrated a need within TRIO. These programs work on tight budgets and often limited staff, so creating materials from scratch isn’t always easy or possible. The idea for this company had been brewing in my head for YEARS, but it took finding the perfect partner (with both the skills necessary and a willingness to jump into this endeavor) to make that final leap of courage to quit our jobs and move forward with starting a company.
Whitney: I also worked for Talent Search for over four years, two of which I spent coordinating curriculum development. When I first started in Talent Search, I wasn’t sure I had the creativity to develop curriculum that would be as amazing and effective as my co-workers’, but I quickly discovered that I LOVED writing and designing handouts and activities. I also presented at conferences and was amazed how many people our would show up at our sessions. It was clear there was a need for quality college-prep curriculum, so when Aimee presented this idea for a business to me, I didn’t hesitate! And it’s been the best career decision I’ve ever made.
Q) How much business background did you have when you first decided to build your business?
Aimee: Pretty much none! I took some business classes in college, thinking I might be a business major, but taking Macro Economics cured me of such a notion right quick.
Whitney: I didn’t have any experience either. I majored in Public Administration and I have a Master’s in teaching. My entire professional career has been in education, so starting a business has been an entirely new learning experience.
Q) What were some of the biggest hurdles to getting off the ground?
First and foremost, quitting our jobs. That’s a major scary step, to give up your income and risk everything financially for something that might not even work. The fear of the unknown is natural, but with so much on the line, it was daunting. Oh, and the fact we had NO idea how to start a company. We even put a substantial amount of our own money towards getting started with no guarantee or idea of when we’d receive a paycheck again. Also, we had a super short turnaround between designing our first curriculum topics from scratch (which is incredibly time-consuming) and exhibiting at our first educational conference. To this day, we’re amazed that we could pull it off.
Q) What resources did you use to learn more about entrepreneurship?
A huge help was taking training courses through the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center (ASBTDC) on campus at U of A. The trainings gave us an idea as to where to begin, plus the ASBTDC additional consulting and marketing research was extremely helpful. It gave us comfort to know that support (and encouragement) was available throughout this journey, not to mention seeing other potential small business owners/entrepreneurs starting from scratch just like us.
Q) How did you spread the message about what you do, and the service you provide?
We hit the road! We drove to TRIO and educational conferences across the country. Our first year, we drove from coast to coast and north to south, from Washington, D.C. to San Diego, Galveston to Minnesota and lots of places in between. The best way to spread the word in our field was to show up with products in hand to explain how our materials work in person. We’d present at conferences as well as have an exhibit booth. In fact, we still do! Although now we’re able to fly to some events. Physically showing up made all the difference for our company. It had to be more than simply social media posts and having a website.
Q) What do you find the most challenging and most rewarding about operating your business?
The most rewarding by far is making a difference in the lives of students. Our products have sold to programs in 43 states and Puerto Rico, in the hundreds of thousands of handouts. We are impacting the lives of students throughout the country, helping them better their futures through a college education. But we couldn’t do it without TRIO program staff and the vast support network of professional colleagues, friends, and family who continue to help us along the way. Feeling their love and support is incredibly rewarding (and heartwarming!). The most challenging is that with only two of us running this company, time and effort is at a premium. We constantly remind ourselves that we can only do so much and to accept those limitations, making a conscious effort to avoid burnout and exhaustion.
Q) What would you say has been a key factor to the success you have had?
The support of former co-workers, TRIO colleagues, and professional contacts who help with myriad tasks like editing our handouts, consulting on topics and design, and serving on our scholarship committee. You know what’s amazing about these folks? Many of them have REFUSED compensation from us because they believe in the mission of our company. They are contributing to the greater good through their support and we love them for that dedication. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to them, as well as to friends and family who’ve encouraged us, traveled with us, watched our dogs while on the road, and been our cheerleaders/support network.
Q) What Advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
If you’re going to take this great leap, then go all the way. Put your whole heart into it, knowing that mistakes will happen and things may not work out sometimes. Be willing to forgive yourself and learn from those mistakes. Be mindful of burnout and know your limitations, but also remember the reason you started this endeavor in the first place. Take joy in knowing that you took a risk and worked hard to make it a success. Take even more joy when you realize, after everything, that this might actually work out for your day job.