Welcome to another “Meet the Client” blog!
These blogs help feature small, local businesses and startups throughout the Eastern Kentucky region who have been working closely with our SOAR Innovation Team.
This month, we want to feature one Southeast Kentucky business that is bringing “hands-on learning” to another level for children.
In a world dominated by screens and technology, the significance of fostering creativity and curiosity in our youngest generation cannot be overstated.
One remarkable way to achieve this is through the support of children’s museums – such as the London Children’s Museum!
This vibrant space offers a unique and interactive environment where children can learn, play, and explore the world around them.
However, their story is not one for us to write, let’s take a deep into a Q&A session with the owners of the London Children’s Museum!
Q&A Session with London Children’s Museum
Q: Provide an overview of your background and what inspired you to become an entrepreneur and start your own company.
A: As a mom of four young children, I never really had the entrepreneurial passion but my husband always had. I was a medical assistant for an ENT office and loved my job helping patients. For years, my husband has tossed around business ideas (most are really great ideas, that he should sell to someone) but never really pushed through to make any of them a reality. That is, until last winter break. We always try to find fun and educational experiences for our children on breaks, but most of the experiences cause us to have to drive a way to get them. Driving home from the Explorium, with four overly tired young children (and two overstimulated adults) we jokingly said “Someone should totally open a children’s museum closer to home”. A week later we had our LLC for the London Children’s Museum and were on the hunt for a building!
Q: What was your business’s initial idea or concept, and how did it come about?
A: Our initial idea has remained the same throughout this experience. Educational, fun, hands-on learning through play.
Q: Can you describe the early days of your startup? What were the biggest challenges you faced during the launch phase?
A: The early days were mostly spent building our museum layout and finding local businesses that saw the vision and would be willing to take a chance. The biggest challenge (other than financial) was building credibility.
Q: Were there any key moments or experiences that motivated you to take the leap and start your own business?
A: We just felt it once we said “Let’s do it, let’s open a children’s museum” and it’s been a whirlwind since. Our motivation is the children, our children, our neighbor’s children, and all the children that may not have the same opportunities to travel to experience another children’s museum, that’s our motivation.
Q: What were the first steps you took to turn your idea into a reality, and how did you secure funding (if applicable)?
A: Our first step was to find a building that would allow us to have a children’s museum. We found that not to be an easy task. Most open spaces only wanted medical offices or retail fronts.
Q: Entrepreneurship often involves taking risks, can you share a significant risk you took early in your journey and how it turned out?
A: During this process, I became a stay-at-home mom to work at the museum full time and my husband is a teacher. We invested everything we had to put down deposits and pay for exhibits not covered by sponsorships. It was hard and still is knowing you put 100% of yourself, your family, your money, and your time into something that has such a high risk.
Q: What has been your most rewarding accomplishment as a founder so far?
A: Honestly, just making it happen, daily. Walking into this beautiful space designed with children in mind is just so rewarding. When a child walks into the museum with doe-like eyes, and jaws drop, it’s those moments that I feel most rewarded.
Q: On the flip side, can you talk about a specific setback or failure you encountered and how you overcame it?
A: During the building phase, we were running short on time for our building permit to be approved by Frankfort so we could keep our July 1st opening date. So, I called every other day asking. Finally, I just explained what we were trying to provide for the community, the camps we were about to offer, the programs that would engage children with hands-on learning exploration, and they (less than 2 days later) took care of it and got it approved! Sometimes, being persistent pays off.
Q: Building a business can be mentally and emotionally taxing, how do you manage stress and maintain your motivation during the tough times?
I am still learning how to balance these. Ask me again in a year.
Q: How did you go about assembling your initial team, and what qualities do you look for in the people you work with?
A: I need 3 things from my initial team: honesty, friendliness, & responsibility. I feel like people are honest, most other things fall into place the way they should.
Q: As your business grew, what were some critical milestones or turning points that shaped its trajectory?
A: Making the move to change into a nonprofit organization is our biggest milestone to date. We are so grateful for the opportunity to have more growth, more community outreach programming, more STEM opportunities to local families, and higher-quality exhibits.
Q: Can you share a few examples of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned as a founder and how they’ve influenced your approach to business?
A: I’ve learned that sometimes sitting back and waiting for a response can open more doors than anticipated. Another crucial lesson is, you simply can not make everyone happy. Someone along the way will be upset for one reason or another, and that is okay. There are 7.8 billion people on the planet, why would I think I could possibly make them all happy?
Q: How do you stay innovative and adaptable in an ever-changing business landscape?
A: We think you should learn something new every day. This includes the way you run a business. Remembering to adapt as things come along helps your stress level and reminds us that change is progress.
Q: What role has mentorship played in your entrepreneurial l journey, and do you have any advice for aspiring founders on seeking mentorship?
A: At first, we didn’t have much mentorship but as time has gone along we have had the pleasure of meeting some incredible mentors. If you ever have time to meet or listen to Dr. Jordyne Carmack, do it. She is amazing and gives the best, most sincere advice. Geoff Marietta has been such a huge help in switching to a nonprofit and just understanding the struggles of being a small business owner altogether. Also, never be afraid to pick up the phone and just call. I have spent hours calling people just to see if they would have any contacts that could be beneficial to the organization.
Q: How do you prioritize work-life balance as a founder and what strategies do you use to maintain it?
A: I am still working on this. I currently work 7 days a week at the museum and have since January. It is extremely difficult to set it aside when there is still so much work to be done. But, I have noticed over the past few weeks that I do need to figure out a better balance.
Q: What do you believe sets your business apart from competitors, and what is your long-term vision for the company?
A: Long-term vision is a large 2-3 story building with a children’s museum, historical exhibits and artifacts, and a touch aquarium. A lot of children in our area, do not get the opportunity to experience this kind of thing and we want to be able to provide them with that experience. Let them play and explore all things!
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who are just starting their journey?
A: It is a long road. Try to remember it’s a marathon, not a race. Take the time off when you can. Find people around you who will support your mission and vision but will also give you honest feedback.
Q: Looking back, is there anything you wish you had known when you first started your business?
A lot. I wish I knew more about how this process would play out. I wish I knew how hard community support would be at times. I wish I knew how invested every part of your life will be in your business.
Maybe you don’t have your business idea plan set in stone or maybe you’ve been wondering if your business is ready for the next step.
You can reach out to our SOAR Innovation Team to help you find out your next steps.
Our Innovation team members, appropriately called Champions, begin to identify challenges small business owners or entrepreneurs might be facing. Just as important, they help identify and seize opportunities WITH small businesses and entrepreneurs.
This is done through a variety of direct services.
- Business Ideation
- Financial Forecasting
- Google Verification
- Website Fundamentals
- Digital Media and Marketing
Reach out to our SOAR Innovation Team members today!
Ready for the next step?
Apply for the 2024 Startup Appalachia Pitch Competition!
Do you have Appalachia Kentucky’s next big idea?
We want to hear it… and we want to fund it.
Thanks to the generosity of Community Trust Bancorp, we will award nearly $20,000 in cash prizes with first-place taking home $10,000!
Finalists also get to take home $500.
Who is eligible for the competition?
The business must be a startup based in one of the 54 ARC KY Counties.
- A Startup is defined as a concept or existing business financed by its founders that is attempting to attract outside investment.
- An existing business cannot be more than 5 years old.
- Must have a product or service that has an e-commerce or exporting focus.
The competition is planned for April 11, 2023, and the location is yet to be determined (TBD).
But don’t let that date fool you, the deadline to APPLY is coming up soon!
The deadline to apply is December 31, 2023. We know that applying for a pitch competition can be a little intimidating. It doesn’t have to be and we are here to help.
You can apply HERE.
A quick note from Director of Business and Innovation, Sabrina McWhorter.
Sometimes you may start your journey with one goal in mind, but it’s important to stay flexible and pivot when necessary. Remember to show yourself grace through the journey of entrepreneurship. While owning a small business is often shown in a “trendy” spotlight, it is truly one of the hardest things you could ever do. Be ready to pull long hours, sleepless nights worrying about making ends meet, and all the self-doubt imaginable. The good news is, you don’t have to walk this journey alone. We are here to support you through the wins and the trials. Reach out to us today, we would love to hear your story.
For more information
Got questions? Contact Sabrina McWhorter, Director of Business and Innovation, at firstname.lastname@example.org.