In early 2020, Teach Tech U founder S. Hope Davis bet on herself.
She left teaching to invest into her business full-time, which focused on offering professional development for schools and teachers to help administer technology in the classroom. But as was the case for so many small business owners, the COVID-19 pandemic changed Teach Tech U’s business model.
Leaning on the entrepreneurial spirit she inherited from her mother, Davis pivoted and began focusing on program development and consulting school districts on how to better use and leverage technology to foster student success. “Instead of putting my head in the sand and letting it be, I realized it was time to pivot and develop another business model that would sustain the company,” says Davis. “Survival is about the client. We have to make sure their needs are met.”
In addition to pivoting to program development and consulting, Teach Tech U also added Project LEAR to its offerings, a service that assists school districts in locating, mentoring, and reconnecting students who became disengaged, dropped out, or were otherwise absent from school in the wake of the pandemic.
For Davis, who spent some time during her teaching career working with non-traditional students who faced attendance obstacles, the need for this type of program was something that she anticipated. “We understood what was going to happen once all the schools came back,” says Davis. “I knew there was going to be a gap in the resources schools had and what they needed, and I knew that I could help fill that gap.”
With Project LEAR added to Teach Tech U’s offerings, Davis needed more capital to help fulfill the needs of contracts signed with several school districts, including Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. But while Davis's business was growing, she experienced capital funding barriers brought on by her relatively limited business experience and the need to lean on her personal resources, which affected her ability to access the capital needed to expand. “It was very difficult to gain capital,” says Davis. “It’s a generational obstacle. I watched my mother struggle to make a dollar out of 15 cents. But like she did, you just have to continue to push forward.”
To access the needed capital, Davis returned to a familiar partner in business at Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF). Davis was originally connected to CSBDF when she applied for and received a grant from the RETOOL NC program. Administered by CSBDF and another community and economic development organization and managed by the North Carolina Department of Administration Office of Historically Underutilized Businesses, RETOOL NC was a COVID-19 relief grant that helped women- and minority-owned businesses recover.
She reconnected with CSBDF for a loan to help finance her needs with Project LEAR, and CSBDF worked with Davis to understand her story and help navigate non-traditional credit requirements to provide a loan, which was supported by the Wells Fargo Open for Business fund. “Businesses are so much more than scores and spreadsheets. Individuals are so much more than that,” says Davis. “I was very happy I reached out to CSBDF because they took the time to listen to my entire story rather than just looking at my personal credit and a snapshot of my business. They saw what I needed and what my future looked like. I bet on myself, and what changed for me was that someone else bet on me as well. That is what CSBDF did. They said ‘ok, let’s bet on her as well.’”
Along with providing Davis and Teach Tech U with the capital needed, CSBDF also offered technical support and assistance to Davis as she went through the loan process. “Starting a small business brings a lot of challenges and navigating the financial aspect of entrepreneurship is a big one,” says Davis.
For Davis, having a resource in CSBDF has helped to offer a clearer picture of that side of small business ownership. “I’ve spent a lot of time running my business and reading how to do this, but there was a financial part about presenting myself as a company that I didn’t understand,” says Davis. “CSBDF has been so helpful because I feel so much more confident because I have a plan. I know I have the support. The pieces I was fuzzy about, I have clarity. If I’m still fuzzy, I go to CSBDF.”
As Teach Tech U continues to expand – both in its program development offerings and with Project LEAR – it's doing so on that entrepreneurial spirit of Davis, helped by both financial and technical support from CSBDF. With her loan, Davis has some comfort in knowing her business can continue to excel. “The loan allowed me to sleep,” says Davis. “As a business owner, you’re constantly kept up thinking about how to make it through, but with the loan, I sleep. CSBDF has allowed me to move forward instead of being stuck.”