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Smita Shah is a qualified and practising specialist teacher for specific learning difficulties, working with children and adults. She had no intention of becoming a business owner and manager, expecting her two children Nikhit, 24, and Rhea, 17, to find their own way in the world.
However back in 2012 Nikhit, who has learning difficulties himself, was finding it hard to secure sustained employment. After completing various vocational courses at college, Nikhit took up the support offered by the job centre and specialist employment agencies to apply for jobs, but every application or work trial resulted in rejection and over time his self-esteem and motivation suffered.
e² Young Engineers ® is a franchise business which brings maths, science and engineering education using Lego® and K’nex®. The subject matter appealed particularly to the Shahs as Smita was already a qualified educator, Nikhit has a practical mind and learns through doing whilst Rhea could fit it in around her studies.
So in March 2013 they signed up for with e² Young Engineers®, as the first UK franchisee and began the journey.
Smita continued to work in learning support and the family consciously made the decision to grow the business at a manageable pace in order to keep a firm control of the quality of delivery throughout.
“We want a fampreneur business for the long-term and so we decided a slow, considered and controlled growth strategy was best for us,” Smita explains, “We hosted our first groups here at home in order to keep costs low, allow for small groups and to manage the environment. It worked really well and we were soon being asked for more sessions and one-off parties.”
Soon afterwards Rhea became ill and the growth strategy proved valuable as the Shahs had to put the brakes on the business for a short time. When Rhea recovered the Shahs then began to market to the local schools and soon secured after-school club slots in independent and state schools, including one school where the programmes are now a part of the curriculum.
“We were not the first to provide such clubs to some of these schools,” Nikhit explains, “But because we worked to better ratios – both in terms of adults to children and equipment to children – we have managed to retain the business where predecessors have not.”
And Nikhit has definitely found his calling in education, alongside his e² Young Engineers® sessions he now volunteers at one of the schools where he is training for an education qualification. This will enhance his work with e² Young Engineers® and also raise the game in terms of what the Shahs can offer as a business.
The Shahs now have established sessions every weekday in schools, some weekends for parties and additional private sessions and courses. To deliver the workload they’ve taken on 3 extra staff and Smita estimates that since launch they have taught hundreds of children, teaching approximately 150 every week.
“The feedback from the parents has been great,” Rhea says, “We have some great reports from the parents telling us their kids have increased confidence, better listening and concentration in school and improved maths and science skills.”
The slow and sustained growth of the Shah’s business continues and together they plan to double up their workforce so they can meet the new demand and deliver on two separate sites at once. And until that is managed they’re having to turn down work.
“The only hurdle we face is getting the right staff to enable this and as Rhea continues to study we are exploring whether another partner in the business is the right way to go. “ Smita explains. “It would be ideal to find another parent like me with the same passion for teaching and managing a business.”
Until then mother, son and daughter are not the only family members on the payroll; Smita’s husband gets roped in and also Smita’s parents, Kanchan and Harkhu are always on hand, particularly at weekends, to help with one-off events and parties.
“It’s great working as a family,” Smita continues, we’ve not only ensured Nikhit has a job that’s right for him but we’ve had great fun pooling ideas and managing the business. And if it continues to succeed in this way there is a sound source of income for both my children for the long-term.”
As to the future, as well as growing in volume the Shahs are planning to expand their offering too, by delivering more advanced education for older children such as robotics for those in secondary education, a special programme for special needs and also adults. Just like the Lego® they use, the possibilities are endless.
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