There is no doubt that all parents want to see their children achieve educational success. They want their children to attend one of the top private schools and universities in the country, and either become an entrepreneur, a doctor, an artist, an athlete, or an engineer. There are, however, lots of challenges along the way. Some of these include high tuition rates, overcrowding, and exhaustive academic requirements across all Canadian universities. That is why a large number of Canadian students are considering applying for post-secondary education in the United States.
Canadian students have the opportunity to take the SAT test in order to qualify for many universities in the US. The SAT is considered to be the world’s most prominent university entrance exam that tests students reading, writing and math skills. It also ties these materials closely to other skills such as analyzing texts and showing proof of work.
Joanna Severino, a former teacher and the founder of Prepskills, helps families and students prepare for private school admissions and college in the United States. Their goal is to “provide students with the skills they need to navigate and excel on standard exams.” In addition to test-taking skills (SSAT or SAT) for private school or US College admissions, Prepskills focuses on developing a student’s emotional intelligence (EQ) success skills. They work with students based on their academic objectives and help them maximize their scoring potential, confidence and find the right school fit.
We had the chance to have a quick chat with Joanna about the origins of her business, challenges she faced along the way, and how Lending Loop was able to help her grow Prepskills.
Let’s start with the beginnings of Prepskills. What is the origin story and how did you get going?
I was a Certified high school teacher for a number of years and really enjoyed it. Then life threw a curveball and I was diagnosed with cancer and required a stem cell transplant, which I successfully conquered. Through that transformation process, and as a creative outlet, I wanted to create something that goes beyond the walls of the school building. And that’s what laid the platform for students that were interested in applying to private and independent schools. Thereafter, there was definitely a need for those considering American universities, and there wasn’t a lot of information and support in that respect. We found a need for in-person interaction with the American universities to launch the US College Expo in Canada and help in different cities such as Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Toronto. We help students find their school fit and venture into a journey of finding their “why” and their true gifts. It’s our passion to take their personality and align this with their greater purpose and success trajectory.
What were some challenges you faced in the first few years of your business?
My strengths lie in being an active visionary and a creator — I create things that don’t exist. I think I’m a trailblazer by nature. From a marketing perspective, through the trial and error phase, and realizing what really works, in the end, is the building of relationships. The ability to network and connect with different educators, influencers and the community is the heart of what really supported the growth. So those initial phases were pretty fun, creative and challenging. Financially, I wasn’t really pushing hard for capital in the beginning but sort of carried it through organically. But a lot of good outcomes that came out of that entrepreneurial spirit and I’m continuously driving that forward.
How does Prepskills impact the community and students as a whole?
We’ve served thousands of students over the years. From an American university standpoint, Canada as a whole sees about 30,000 students that go to the US annually. The great majority of the students that are considering the US are either athletes or those looking for some specialized programs, that academic specialization or performing arts. And there are middle-income families that are considering private schools for their children and are willing to invest money in their education. We provide information so they get all the support that they need regarding private schools like bursaries, understanding the process, interview skills, testing, and other offerings. I think it’s a great pleasure for us to be able to educate families that they can actually afford private schools and that it’s not far out of their reach.
How did you come across Lending Loop? What did the loan mean to you?
I received Lending Loop in the mail and found it an interesting concept, so I pursued it! I really like the fact that these investors are individuals seeding one another. It was easier, streamlined and the individual I worked with was definitely helpful, supportive and timely with everything, as opposed to bureaucratic process through other institutions that in many instances just don’t understand entrepreneurs. Often these other institutions measure credit based on a boxed formula whereas Lending Loop has a creative “think outside the box” approach to support businesses. I also like that the team understands entrepreneurship and what our situation was at that time. And I really appreciate that.
How are things going now for your business?
Things are going well. We have a great number of leads — lead generation is something we are good at. We are really focusing on the conversion of leads and also the duplication model. We are looking to duplicate on a franchise level.
If you could give one tip to small business owners, what would it be?
I think it’s really about grit and perseverance; they carry you through. When you come across circumstances, like legal situations or overcoming financial burdens, you reflect upon the situation and possibly consider giving up. Learn how to crush obstacles and bounce back with resilience. Especially if you are a new entrepreneur venturing into a new world, it could be daunting and challenging. So you really have got to have that grit behind you and have a passion to move you forward.