Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in training and education but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Paul Martin, Owner of SE Scholar, LLC., located in Woodbine, MD, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

SE Scholar is dedicated to helping Systems Engineers get their International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) Systems Engineering Professional (SEP) certification. One of the key components in getting certified is passing an INCOSE knowledge exam, which is based on a 290-page INCOSE Systems Engineering (SE) Handbook.

I’ve developed a proprietary comprehensive Process Flow diagram, which walks the student through all 31 Processes from the SE Handbook. My class provides the context of Systems Engineering by emphasizing that Systems Engineering Technical Processes operate within the envelope of the project as dictated by contracts as set forth by an organization. My actual product is an online, self-paced class that includes over 23 hours of instructional videos, practice quizzes and exams, a study guide, and of course, a copy of the awesome comprehensive Process Flow diagram.

This allows the student to learn the material at their own pace and in their own time frame. It also allows us to provide affordable, high-quality Systems Engineering instruction, no matter where people work or live! My customer base are Systems Engineers who want to be INCOSE Certified. But I can also help corporations who want their systems engineering staff to be certified. The bottom line, I am serving a very niche market.

Tell us about yourself

I am a retired Systems Engineer with over 40 years of experience. I’ve been everything from a Product Engineer for General Electric Products Division to a Software Systems Engineer for a multi-million dollar Navy program to a Systems Engineer within the Intelligence Community. I am presently an Adjunct Professor in the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Office of Professional Programs, Systems Engineering Graduate Program, where I developed and teach SYST 660: Systems Engineering Principles course. I also teach my class for UMBC Training Centers. On the certification side of things, I have two: (1) INCOSE’s “Expert Systems Engineering Professional” (ESEP) since 2012 and (2) CompTIA’s Certified Technical Trainer (CTT+).

The idea for the business actually grew from my frustration at going through the INCOSE SEP Certification process back in 2007 when I got my INCOSE “Certified Systems Engineering Professional” (CSEP) designation. There were no companies at the time helping Systems Engineers prepare for the exam. Of course, in 2007, the INCOSE Certification Program was less than four years old, and I was the 177th certified SE in the world at the time. But I knew the certification program would grow, and I wanted to be able to fill that gap in the marketplace.

My motivation actually goes back to INCOSE’s vision statement: A better world through a systems approach. Systems Engineering is a profession that can really make a difference in the world if its practitioners know how to harness the power of systems thinking and the systems approach. I do want my students to become INCOSE Certified, but I also want them to be better Systems Engineers as well.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Coming up with the awesome comprehensive Process Flow diagram. It’s a significate IP for my company. Once I’m done teaching the students by walking through the chart, one process at a time, they have a much better grasp of the context of Systems Engineering. I know it initially can look complicated – but to be fair, Systems Engineering is a complicated machine. But my diagram gives my students an appreciation of where they fit within the machinery.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

The hardest part was getting started - getting the LCC setup, creating the website (Squarespace), creating the class web portal (Canvas from Instructure), and getting the proper tools to capture my lectures. It took time to figure out the best approach and then implement it. And even after everything was in place, I had to refresh the content every few years. My goal was to have everything in place so it could run with minimal interaction from me. For the most part, I accomplished that.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Get a really good accountant to do your taxes—someone who knows the tax law and how to work within its boundaries. I used to do my own taxes via Quicken but ended up not setting aside enough for taxes and then taking out a big home equity loan to pay for them. I have almost no regrets in my life; however, not having a good accountant earlier in my business is one of my biggest.
  2. Ask for feedback on what you are developing. I had to rely on family and friends but getting a second set of eyes on your work is important. When you are by yourself, mistakes are all too common.
  3. Don’t get too stuck on the analysis of your approach. (What we in the SE world affectionately call “Analysis Paralysis”) Eventually, you need to move out with something - just to get started. You can always redirect if the approach doesn’t work - but get it started so you can learn what works.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I think this whole business would not have happened if I didn’t find out that I loved teaching. I think starting a business based on your passion is the key to success.

I had to build my business even though I worked full time, taught at a local college, had a big family, was involved in church, and worked on the Board of Directors of the local INCOSE chapter. Having a passion for what I do, and believing my product can make a difference in people's lives, helps motivate me to do the hard work of getting my business off the ground. But most of all, having a loving and supportive spouse made all the difference in the world. So I’d like to give a shout-out to my beautiful wife, Maria.

Where can people find you and your business?


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