During her years as a teaching in international schools Sara Brenneman saw a gap in support for students that learn differently. She took the leap and started a learning centre for these students here in KL. We talked to her about what are the challenges when starting up a business in the education sector!
Can you give us a brief description of your business and when it started?
The Learning Connection is a centre which caters to educating children who learn differently. We have 11 classes which target a wide range of developmental levels and ages. Many of our students are on the autistic spectrum, however we do not require any diagnosis in order to enroll.
Class sizes are kept small, a maximum of six students in each. Our programmes are inclusive of speech therapy and occupational therapy, and classroom teachers have training and experience in the field of special education.
What made you decide to turn your interest into a business?
I initially came to KL to work in an international school for 3 years, and during my time there, I observed parents of children with moderate to severe learning disabilities frustrated because the local schools, as well as most international schools, didn’t offer adequate programmes and services for these students.
With this experience, I decided to start The Learning Connection – in order to fill the gaps and to provide support for such families and children.
Initially I intended for The Learning Connection to be a centre where I could offer parents help in the form of assessment and individual after-school tutoring with students. But the phone calls from parents looking for an alternative day school for their children started and didn’t stop.
The services available in Kuala Lumpur are often fragmented and the concept of working as a multi-disciplinary team to come up with a comprehensive plan for each student is unique here. One of the visions of TLC is to offer a one stop centre where a team of experts work together and communicate regularly to offer a more comprehensive programme for each student.
How do you balance your time between the other aspects of your life (i.e. being a mum) and being an entrepreneur?
I try my best to get my work done on a daily basis in the office. In an ideal world, once I pick up my daughter from school, it’s mum time. Admittedly, this is not always possible, and at those times, I just take it as it comes and it seems to work with the help of my husband who has a flexible schedule to help out.
What challenges did you face getting your business started?
Financial challenges were the main obstacle. Getting a sustainable number of students in the programme was difficult at first, but with time and word of mouth it gradually changed.
Location was also a challenge, as when we started we were in a residential neighbourhood which did not want us there. This was a very stressful time, and I was not sure I would be able to sustain it. At that point, one of the parents of a student offered me the space that I am in now.
Getting qualified and experienced teachers was also challenging at the beginning, and added to the financial stress, as the only teachers I could find were from overseas and this constituted another major expense.
What tips do you have for others who are thinking about setting up their own business?
Start small and think quality not quantity. Be patient. If your services are “value for money” the word will spread!
You can find out more about The Learning Connection on their website or contact Sara Brenneman at 012-686-7384.