Three years after starting Studyville, where junior high and high school students get tutoring and work on schoolwork in a comfortable environment, Amanda Vincent’s growing Baton Rouge business has received national recognition.
Studiville was recently named one of America’s Top Small Businesses by the American Chamber of Commerce, the only Louisiana company to make a list of the top 70 small companies. Businesses are selected based on growth, ability to overcome challenges, innovative strategies for success and community involvement. About 15,000 companies were nominated for the honor.
The business started in It was the fall of 2020 and the Covid-19 outbreak was causing major disruptions in schools. Vincent weathered those hard times and managed to grow Studyville on Perkins Row. The company now offers a “mini-school program” — essentially outdoor learning — in a study hall in Alexandria and a group of teachers who provide need-based private school scholarships to at-risk children in Georgia with Arett Scholars.
“We’re teaching literacy and math in North Baton Rouge,” Vincent said. “So we are kind everywhere.”
About 50 teachers work for Studiville, and the business is on track to double its annual revenue by 2022.
Vincent’s interest in teaching began when she was a graduate student at the University of Texas and worked for Sandy Kreis, who later served as an educational advisor to former President George W. Bush.
“He said, ‘I strongly believe in tutoring as education.’ You don’t just hand over your child’s education to someone else. You must be very, very alert.’ So I was exposed to that.
In this week’s Talking Business, Vincent talks about starting a business during the pandemic and what’s next for Studyville. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What made you start Studyville?
It was my own struggle as a parent. We opened three years ago, but I started four years ago in 2019 before the pandemic.
So were you working from home or elsewhere?
No, it only took me a year to build it and find space as a new concept, a new idea. It took that long to find his feet. I have two sons. Tutors came to his house, we went to other teaching centers. And that was a great space for teenagers, especially when the stakes were high and they were trying to get into college and taking the SATs and ACTs.
You started during the covid pandemic. That was difficult.
I signed the contract in February 2020, two weeks before we closed. I said, ‘Oh my God, what are you doing?’ I thought. And as soon as school closed, it became very natural, especially for me as a parent, because my children were in it. It wasn’t the same. They would be behind him. So we opened our door and did it as carefully as possible. Mask and vacuum and hygiene and all. In the year I thought 2020 was tough, but I know fall 2021 will be worse. And by golly it was.
By the end of 2020, you had teachers who were in the same boat as the kids. And they were out. There was much grace. There was a lot of awareness. Well, in the fall of 2021, the geometry teacher didn’t want to catch a kid in algebra. It’s something you need to know. Literacy was a big problem, because you had children who wore masks for a year at their developmental level.
As of 2020, was it the worst time to start a business? It was the best thing for your business because you were interested in it, but everything was so uncertain.
who knows? I didn’t open a business during the global pandemic, so I can’t tell you exactly. I will also say, the social atmosphere in 2020 was very beneficial for children. We see a lot of mental health issues and they get to school, they get angry, you have to stay at arm’s length, don’t talk, wear a mask. And they come here and we just let them be kids.
What’s next for the business? What are your goals for the next few years?
Obviously, grow the company and serve as many children as possible. It’s a lofty goal, but there are so many, especially in Louisiana, I want to do more work in rural communities with underserved students. They just don’t have the resources you need. Here in Baton Rouge, we’re working with the Louisiana Workforce Commission to educate kids to prepare them for the workforce in partnership with the YMCA. Employers basically went to the states and said the small workforce we have can’t read, can’t do math. So we are going in and teaching them in their local YMCA to prepare them for what I call life skills, math and literacy. So we do a lot of work in reading, writing, math, GED, prep, ACT. And I like to do more because not every student is cut out for college.
What advice would you give to people looking to start a business?
I say you should go with your instincts. If you have a good idea, most people will take the safe route. And so if you ask most people, they are going to give you reliable advice. But if you truly believe in your vision and passion, you should really go with your instincts. If I listen to people, Studville was completely different. Just do a pop-up, I was told, don’t put the money in the building yet. I was told to just go to people’s houses, bring a van and go to people’s houses.
I go back to Henry Ford saying, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would say a fast horse”. So if you have a new idea, you really have to trust your gut and go with it.