Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ashley Harding, Founder of North Star Academics, located in Los Angeles, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
At North Star Academics—a leading educational therapy and advocacy practice based in Los Angeles—our purpose is to help Black and POC students (K-12) find joy, success, and fulfillment in learning. We were founded on three core beliefs:
- All students should have equal access to high-quality education.
- Parent engagement is fundamental to student learning.
- Schools must be held accountable for meeting the needs of Black and BIPOC students.
Many Black and BIPOC students and families benefit from additional support in navigating the culture and expectations of private and independent schools. And likewise, many private and independent schools understand the need to incorporate Black and POC students and families into long-standing traditions. We partner with schools to meet the needs of these students by creating a plan, recommending accommodations, and supporting students throughout matriculation. At North Star, we help our students succeed in the classroom and in their school communities. We're here to reassure every parent that their student can excel in the classroom and receive the best education possible.
Tell us about yourself
I am a third-generation educator. North Star Academics was founded to improve the educational experience and outcomes for children. For the past ten years, I have supported children and families around the country to understand and navigate the cultural and academic demands of education. I was born and educated in West Los Angeles. My commitment to BIPOC educational achievement has taken me all over the world. I received my Bachelor of Science from the University of Southern California and earned a Master's degree in Child Development from Tufts University. In 2012, I studied education reform in South Africa at NYU's Steinhardt School. And I am a 2019 Graduate Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania Social Impact program in Belize. I am dedicated to improving the quality of education for students and families. My professional experience is concentrated on creating social capital and support for students and families of color in education. While in Washington, DC, I was the Director of Family and External Engagement for KIPP DC, serving over 6,000 students and families. I also co-authored multiple research publications identifying the educational disparities of Black and Latino males in educational systems around the country.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
North Star has grown over the past three years to serve over 50 BIPOC children and families and partnered with the top schools across the city. And all by word of mouth from some of the city's most amazing and powerful parents and families. I am both humbled and grateful to work with them. And, despite significant gains, I still find challenges in school meetings, academic matriculation plans, IEP evaluations, and building trust between communities. Despite these moments of spiritual sandpaper, our victories remind me of my purpose- to help Black and POC students find joy, success, and fulfillment in education.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
However, being an entrepreneur, dare I say- a businesswoman did not come easy. The first time I invoiced a client, my hands shook as I pressed submit. Designing a website and letting people know that I existed was terrifying. I prefer to oversee operations or work directly with kids and families than focus on strategic planning. But those lessons have come rapidly, and as a true educator, I have enrolled in many classes and read many books to prepare North Star for growth. And as I think about the future, my biggest priority is to expand by hiring and aligning with more BIPOC educators and leaders with the same commitment and passion for children, families, and schools. We exist, and North Star is growing to be a hub for academic support and advocacy for BIPOC students and schools nationwide. So, as I teach my students, I permit myself to make mistakes, have a flexible mindset, and demand the best for my students and families!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Always have a tribe of people who believe in you, your dreams, and your highest good. You will need and deserve a cheer squad.
- Always have a tribe of experts, advisors, a CPA, and an attorney who can support you and your growth and ensure your business has a strong foundation.
- Maintain and grow your WHY. You will outgrow many parts of your operations and, if you're lucky, outgrow your role within your business. Be ready to expand. Get excited to grow. But always be clear about your why, mission, and passion.
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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