Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in dance education but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Tee Sandifer, Founder, and CEO of Studio T Arts & Entertainment, located in Sacramento, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
For nearly 20 years, Studio T has worked to keep young people off the streets by giving them positive and creative social alternatives to drugs, teen pregnancy, gang violence, and suicide. We started by teaching hip-hop dance in after-school programs and quickly found that our students thrived but needed more. Our work grew to include financial education, life & social skills training, entrepreneurship, emergency clothing, and hygiene items.
Studio T Arts & Entertainment changes the lives of vulnerable youth and their families through the power of the performing arts, culturally relevant and engaging experiences, and creative entrepreneurship that actually pays young people. Essentially, we transform difficult-to-serve youth who live in low-income, minority communities into vibrant young leaders who can earn a dollar, pay it forward, and express themselves in positive ways. Sacramentan youth flock to Studio T because it's a place where they can belong, gain hope, and shine joyfully as themselves while gaining upward mobility. For nearly 15 years, we have successfully implemented our mission of using the performing arts to make a lifetime impression on the hearts and minds of community youth. Annually, we serve more than 5,000 families in Sacramento's most under-resourced neighborhoods. We work in urban housing developments, community centers, and across five school districts at 52 sites. In addition, we run an online learning platform called "Pass to Class" that engages over 192,000 educators across the nation. We bring joy and hope through dance, as well as build self-esteem, creativity, confidence, and unshakable respect for the arts. Dance is our primary engagement tool-- a culturally relevant way for us to connect with diverse youth--, but we are also a youth development non-profit. Why? Because when we couple the arts with real-world skill development and enthusiastic empowerment, we witness explosions of academic growth and powerful transformations of entire families. Too many of our families face poverty, hunger, and a systematic lack of opportunity, so our daily work includes financial education, life, and social skills training, and entrepreneurship. To that end, we provide three programs that accompany our dance offerings to divert young people off the streets by giving them skills and a positive social alternative.
Other key programs to complement dance are Side Hustle Academy, LVL UP, and PassToClass.com, which are creative workforce development programs that train youth how to capitalize on their creative and cultural talents. Our grassroots approach also addresses social issues that impact our youth daily. We work hard to build significant trust, embody cultural understanding, and help broker language to help our youth succeed. We have to build anti-oppression practices that work for young people-- through the performing arts and creative entrepreneurship-- that help them break free and thrive. To that end, we provide unfettered access to entrepreneurship tools that young people can implement TODAY. Long gone are traditional teenage jobs (they are often competing with their parents for work). To that end, we are currently serving 100+ young people, training them to create digital content and branding for 20 small local businesses.
The long-term impact is to drive generational income, community growth, and economic activity in high-poverty communities--and we're doing it through belonging. . .strengthening who we authentically are! Our program recipients are youth, ages 5-24, and their families. They are primarily from high-poverty areas, with a large majority of students receiving free or reduced lunch and health and emotional support through school.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Building a multi-million dollar non-profit that serves over 200,000 youth, their families, and over 8,000 educators nationwide from nothing while raising three remarkable children and hundreds of children by way of love adoption through my program.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
One of the hardest things for me is the financial pressure. I built my company as a single mom on welfare with three kids. I gave birth to my son and my company at the same time. It was VERY difficult pursuing the dream in my heart while raising healthy children on a very limited income. Starting out like this will show you what you're really made of. It took a ton of grit, prayer, and faith that what I saw in my dreams was obtainable for someone like me and would eventually provide for my family, The passion and hard work paid off! Not just for my family but for thousands of families across the country.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Go! - Stopping thinking about it and take a step, even if it's a little step (or a leap, if you are wired like me); get started.
- Trust you - You have all the potential you need to be a success, and trust that whatever you don't have expertise in, you already know the person who does.
- Make Balance A Priority; burnout is real and may cost you your dreams - Maintain proper priorities: Family, Faith, and Finances. I can't tell you how many times my family hears "in a minute," "I'm almost done," and "I have a meeting." This is not good, especially if you are married or have children. Be committed to clocking out and unplugging. Not doing this will cost you more than you want to pay... trust me!
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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