Innovation: Combining Education and STEM for Kids and Adult Learners
Global Challenge: Digital Education & Inclusion
Meet Angie De Benedetto, CEO of A&D Tutoring, an Edmonton-based tutoring company that has provided learning and testing services for kindergarten to adult learners since 1992. Angie is a forward-thinking entrepreneur with over 25 years of educational experience.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Angie to learn more about what’s in store for A&D Tutoring as they celebrate their 30th anniversary next year, and her journey to become the best at what she does.
What inspired the start of A&D Tutoring?
A&D Tutoring started out of my parents' home, almost 30 years ago. They were both classroom teachers at the time, and they were seeing an increasing trend of learning issues in the classroom. With only a limited amount of time to help, they were trying to aid students who were falling through the cracks and struggling to learn in a group setting.
My parents have degrees in education, but both have an entrepreneurial mentality and determination to create something out of nothing. On top of being a teacher, my dad also did construction project management.
How is A&D Tutoring innovating?
We provide tutoring from kindergarten to grade 12, and adult education including ESL, computer training and the high school equivalency GED program. We then moved into testing by offering the IELTS exam, as well as proctoring for Pearson VUE, and other post-secondary institutions. We have also developed some in-person STEM programming for students that we’re hoping to launch soon, including how to use existing games, like Minecraft, to teach kids to code.
We’ve recently realized that we’re more than just a place to go to for tutoring, and our programs and services are marketable to a broader audience.
Next year marks A&D Tutoring’s 30th year anniversary, what does this milestone mean to you?
I've been with A&D coming on 23 years. My parents put everything they had into this business, so this milestone means a lot to me. It’s a chance to reflect on how much I have learned and developed over the years, not just as a business owner, but as a person, and I am looking forward to passing that knowledge onto other people.
There was a good chunk of time where everything stayed the same with the business, a plateau phase where we only offered tutoring. About six months before COVID started, I really started to push beyond the boundaries of what I thought was possible.
I am most proud of the change we created and what we have managed to do – to make it through COVID. I focused on who I am as a person, and what I need to do within myself and the business to create change. This personal and professional growth is essential for the future of A&D.
How do you measure and celebrate success?
We use traditional methods of measuring success such as revenue generation, managing expenses, and other financial and number-driven measurements. I love numbers. Lately, we’ve also focused on the number of job opportunities we are providing, and growth for our employees. And additionally, how can we expand our services to more people and increase accessibility? That is what drove me to start a not-for-profit within A&D Tutoring, which is the next step on my journey.
The last year, I’ve focused on giving my staff the opportunity to own certain parts of the business and making them feel that they are part of a family, like we're working together. As a result, employee-ownership has increased, and they have a lot of pride in what they do. It’s been a really big thing for us; it creates culture and brings people together.
What was the transition like to introducing online tutoring?
We received a Women's Entrepreneurship Fund grant about eight months before COVID hit. The grant ended right at the beginning of March 2020, and it allowed us to develop STEM education programming and adopt new technologies, such as online learning platforms.
We were able to train staff to teach online and better understood the experiences of students who took part in online learning. With the help of the grant, we were well geared up. Sometimes things happen and we just don't know why, but the strangeness of having that all happen right before COVID hit, made the transition to online learning seamless for us.
For me, the most challenging aspect was managing everything else at the same time. While trying to run a business and make sure my staff felt safe, I also had two children who were also learning online. It was difficult feeling like I needed to carry everybody else, while I was just as scared. The hardest part of the last two years was trying to make sure everyone was okay.
How would you describe your 2021? What are your lessons learned?
Honestly, this has been the best year of my life. I’ve re-evaluated everything I'm doing as a person, as a leader, as an entrepreneur, and as a parent. I've gone through every facet of my life and done an overhaul. I think COVID has provided me with that opportunity because otherwise I would have been stuck in that run, run, run mentality.
I started working with the University of Alberta’s Venture Mentoring Services, and I ended up with a group of mentors that challenged me to stop and think about the work I was doing was, and whether I was being an effective CEO. The biggest thing I've learned this year is that you need to ask for help. I don’t know everything about everything, and there is no shame in looking for people that have more knowledge. I must keep learning, otherwise I'll never grow as a person.
What are you looking forward to in the new year?
Well, we've purchased a second space for A&D's expansion. It's two doors down from our current space and we're in the middle of completing the interior construction. The new space will be used mostly for STEM programming, but also for group classes and group learning.
I'm also looking forward to developing our not-for-profit, that will provide similar services as A&D Tutoring, but for underrepresented groups. We want the not-for-profit to be a place where anyone can learn skills such as computer training, career planning, ESL training, and so much more.
A&D is also expanding remote tutoring to other cities. We've started to advertise in Red Deer and will hopefully expand further in the future.
What was it like being part of the Edmonton Regional Innovation Network (ERIN) Coach program?
I love our coach, Patrick, he's amazing. We’re currently in our second term working with him. The process of finding a coach and the setup of the program was very seamless.
When we first started working with Patrick, it actually irritated me. He had these ideas, and they weren't the same as mine. I'm in my own little bubble, so I always think that my way is the only way. He was extremely supportive, and would question me, but not in a negative way. He pushed me to reflect on the decisions I was making and to consider what I may have forgotten to look at.
This entire process has been awesome and we're going to have a continued relationship with him for a long time.
Tell us a little bit about the comprehensive courses you are developing in partnership with Innovate Edmonton?
We’re looking at providing a blend of both education and tech. We are doing a lot of product development right now and working on STEM related programming for students, including a robotics program. Among other things, we’re also exploring how to use existing games, like Minecraft, to teach kids to code.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking for support within Edmonton’s innovation community?
The first step is to research available programs and support. I also recommend reaching out to groups and organizations that have people that are like you, or in a similar field to you. If you're trying to do something innovative like I was, working with ERIN and Innovate Edmonton has been fantastic!
When I started talking to other entrepreneurs, I felt supported and more confident in my abilities. Although I love my friends, they're all very different and they don’t really understand my work. They think I'm crazy most of the time and wonder why I haven't just found a regular job, and why I spend so many hours doing this work.
When you surround yourself with like-minded people, you start to think even more outside the box. Therefore, look for like-minded groups and individuals that are trying to achieve the same things as you are. You need this community base.
In your opinion, why is Edmonton a great place to be a founder or an entrepreneur?
Well, definitely because of the groups and associations that are incredibly supportive of small businesses and small business growth and diversification. I don't think you can find something similar in a lot of other cities across the province for sure. I just feel lucky to be in Edmonton.
I've never quite thought about it because I've lived here my whole life, but when we started looking at expanding beyond Edmonton, I realized that Edmonton is truly diverse. The city has an interesting blend of people in terms of ethnicity, economic status and so on. It’s a great place to explore your business idea from a multitude of perspectives just because of the diversity within the city itself.