We’ll start with a bit of background. This is what we spent last summer and fall working through. When starting a school, or any business, there are a few core decisions that have to be made. Key decisions include operational structure of the business and if it will have a physical location, the space. The operational structure is foundational and the location is usually the long-man on the totem pole and a source of significant expenses. Therefore, both need to be determined early in the process. Other strategic plans that need to be defined include the financial plan, the operational plan, the staffing plan and the marketing plan. Looking at all of these plans in their totality, as one influences the others, allows us to determine the viability of the idea.
A bit of background since many people don’t think of schools or museums as businesses, I know I didn’t before opening Ideaventions. However, just reading the news surrounding Sweet Briar, or the status of the National Children’s Museum or even the Corcoran Gallery of Art, one common theme is that these educational enterprises still need to be financially viable. Whether it is a private non-profit or for-profit entity, or even a public institution subsidized by federal, state or local funds, money coming in (regardless of the source) should be equal to or greater than money going out. Being someone who loves to analyze how businesses are run, I could go on and on, but will stop here and bring this back to Ideaventions Academy. We had a few key questions to answer and make a decision on:
What will our operating structure be? This included more detailed questions such as, will this be a separate entity from Ideaventions and more importantly will it be a non-profit entity? With it being a school, we started out as a non-profit entity. Above all, our goal is to provide an educational environment to a segment of the population for whom traditional environments don’t work. Additionally, we needed to implement this as soon as possible, because every year that passes, can be a lifetime for the individual child that is struggling in school.
Since we had an existing business in place that will continue to operate, whose experience, inventory, team (that includes me!) and intellectual property we had planned on leveraging, it became increasingly difficult to separate the entities. The further we got into the process, the more expensive that future operations became to operate as a non-profit. We would have to duplicate functions and create barriers between the entities. For someone who believes in creating efficiencies rather than overhead, this went counter to all of our principles in business operations. Very quickly, the efficiencies we had counted on by leveraging what we had worked on very hard for five years, evaporated. And since the beginning, one of ourcore operating guidelines has been that the school be self-sustaining without requiring donations to sustain its operations. Having five years under our belts with a teaching science center, we know that we can run a sustainable school. However, we wanted to maintain the spirit of the non-profit.
After running many different forecasts assuming different operating entities and consulting with various legal counsel to validate our assumptions, we decided that Ideaventions Academy will operate as an entity under Ideaventions, LLC. The key difference is that we consider ourselves social entrepreneurs and will operate as a social enterprise. As stated so well by PBS, our “work is targeted not only towards immediate, small-scale effects, but sweeping, long-term change.”
With that in mind, we commit to Ideaventions Academy families, that the Academy will provide:
- An innovative, accepting, respectful and challenging educational environment, always putting the needs of the children first;
- Efficiencies in operations in order to keep costs as low as possible;
- An annual report;
- Transparent accounting and communications; and
- A Board of Advisors
To Ideaventions Academy teachers, we also commit that we will:
- Provide an innovative teaching environment based on mutual respect and humility;
- Make decisions on a timely basis; and
- Continue to expand our benefits package
We think that this plan will bring the best of both worlds, both for our families, our employees and for the long-term viability and expansion of the Academy and our ideals.
Completely switching gears, today’s second update is on our location.
Where will the school be located and what will the school look like? We have already announced that we will be located at 12340 Pinecrest Road in Reston. The search was long and difficult, as Northern Virginia, especially the Oakton and Vienna communities have very small areas already zoned for non-residential use that would be adequate for a school. We finally found a location in Reston with 10,500 square feet. This is five times the size of our current Ideaventions location in Oakton, and it is incredibly exciting!
The space is lined with three sides of windows and is currently one big, empty space, otherwise known as shell condition. We are working with Kyle Hopkins from Stantec, whose taste in school design is exactly what we had in mind. Our space plan is complete and we are in the process of finalizing the rest of the architectural drawings to submit to Fairfax County for permitting. Like many engineering projects that follow a waterfall engineering process (e.g., sequential processes of Requirements, Design, Construction, Testing), I have always argued that the requirements and design should take more than half of the overall project timeline and in the case of a physical construction project, obtaining the permits from local authorities is included in the design timeframe. Therefore, the schedule is to break ground on June 1 with two months for the actual construction and testing. Our plan is to have the space complete and ready to move in by the beginning of August, four weeks prior to the start of school.
We are confident in this plan, as we completed the overall process from lease signing to opening our doors in our current space in just under eight weeks. This is not something we would recommend to anyone, but it is one data point, among others, that we use to confirm that our current timeline is comfortable.
We’ll be back in touch next week with an update on our staffing. Have a wonderful weekend! It’s a busy one with Albert Einstein’s birthday and the every-special Pi Day tomorrow, and on Sunday, we hope to see you at the Mini Maker Faire!
I got an email from a friend and fellow math enthusiast while I was writing the update, and I must include some of the links he shared. In case you love math and science videos as much as we do and are looking for a couple to watch tomorrow, check out Vi Hart’s videos on Pi (she’s awesome!): Anti-Pi Rant and Pi is Wrong.