Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Nicole E. VanTassel, Founder of iExploreScience LLC, located in Erie, PA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I provide curricular resources and professional development for middle and high school science teachers who are interested in student-driven, "three-dimensional" science learning.
Tell us about yourself
I started my career as a science teacher, and I really loved developing lessons and materials to use in my classroom. So many of the materials out there were so teacher-driven, and I knew I wanted my students to learn science in a more engaging and authentic way. I wanted them to be driven to learn by their own interest and curiosity instead of because I (or their parents or the school) told them they "had to." A new set of science standards that shared those same values was being released right about when I was getting my footing as a teacher, and I just dove into that approach. I found it really "clicked" for me, and I quickly began dabbling in professional development offerings -- free and paid workshops and courses, consulting work with districts, etc. In terms of my motivation, for one, I just love what I do. I love the creativity of developing engaging lesson plans that expose students to science concepts and ideas at work in the "real world" and just guiding their learning to those "aha" exploration-and-discovery moments. To me, it's a form of art, in a way. On a larger scale, I believe our education systems should be empowering learners to step into their highest selves, to be confident in their own abilities, to have self-awareness and collaboration skills, to know how to communicate, and how to navigate their own learning to achieve whatever-their-goals-are. I don't believe the "traditional" education model actually achieves this, and I want to see our system change. I believe that can and will only happen through the work of teachers likewise dedicated to empowering their students. I just love supporting teachers and being involved in that movement.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I feel like the thing I am most proud of is just getting started. Sometimes people ask me how I started all of this, how I got it going, how I "began," and I don't have a very clear answer. My response is just, "I just started. I offered a few free workshops, posted about them on Instagram and Facebook... and it grew from there." I've worked so hard in this business and in this role (and I feel like such a novice in terms of all of the business and marketing elements still!), and yet I do feel the thing I am most proud of is just the fact that I started it at all. I just went for it.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The hardest thing is just trying to do it all. I feel like an expert in education in working with students and guiding teachers... I don't feel like a marketing, copywriting, or business strategy expert. And so I often feel like floundering around, not sure what to do or how to move forward. And there are so many experts out there who can help and who can provide that guidance, but at the same time, each business is unique, the audiences are unique, my own strengths and preferences are unique, etc. -- so at the end of the day, there's a lot you just have to figure out on your own (based on what works for YOU and your business and the people you serve).
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
For one, just give it a go. Don't get hung up on the silly stuff that doesn't matter so much (what your website looks like, your logo, etc.) because that stuff changes. Dive into the stuff that matters -- the work you are doing to serve other people. Second, you have to figure out what works for you. Don't try to do everything because everyone else tells you to -- go with what feels right to you and cultivate the skill of listening to yourself/gut/intuition (whatever you want to call it). Third, filter the business content you consume. There are so many good ideas out there, but when you have too many ideas, you just end up zig-zagging everywhere and don't really get anywhere. It's great to learn, but figure out what you want to learn first (set some learning goals, maybe) and keep your content consumption in check.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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