Loni Lebanoff, founder of CogniTutor, never planned to launch an education startup. She did though, after finding that some tutoring she started as a favor to a friend took on a life of its own.
"A friend of mine was moving and asked me to tutor one of her students," Lebanoff said. "I did and through word of mouth I ended up tutoring a lot of people. After one or two months, I was contacted by the school board. They asked me to enter a contract with them because my students were doing so well. I wasn't looking for a business but it found me. When I was offered those contracts, I thought I should start a business because I'd seen how much I helped my students."
CogniTutor has since expanded to multiple locations with more than 25 tutors. The company helps students learn how to learn, which enables them to succeed beyond the subjects on which they are being tutored.
"Within each subject we teach, we include critical thinking, memory skills and reading comprehension so it helps them with their future courses down the road and other areas where they need to learn," explained Lebanoff. "That's our differentiator. We give students tools so they not only do better now but also in the long term."
Lebanoff's advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to separate your offering from that of the competition.
"Look at what the competition is doing," she said. "See if you can replicate it and then add your own value. Don’t look at the competition as competition. See them as a way to figure out how to do you thing more efficiently, better and add your own twist. Thinking about your competition and all the work ahead is scary and overwhelming so just take it one step at a time."