Tell us about yourself?
My name is Derrick Wesley, and I am the founder of iMar Learning Solutions and the creator of Seedlyng Financial Education. I am a veteran educator who is passionate about helping others.
Critical thinking skills, leadership development, and financial literacy are not taught in schools, which is why iMar Learning Solutions was founded. iMar Learning received national recognition in 2019 after I won TD Ameritrade’s Innovation Contest.
As a reslut of winning this event helped me to raise the capital to bring my vision of creating a mobile financial literacy app for teens and young adults to life, and now iMar Learning is an approved vendor in over 18 school districts.
What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?
Entrepreneurship has taught me that many teachers underestimate how much they learn while teaching that will make them excellent entrepreneurs.
For example, we use many digital tools that business leaders use to analyze data, create dynamic presentations, and we also learn to share our vision with others.
We also have to think on our feet and be able to problem solve to keep our classroom on track and this skill is also needed as an entrepreneur.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
The best advice I could give myself would be to keep pushing, even on the darkest days when you feel like giving up, find a way.
That is what has gotten me to this point. There were many days when I wanted to throw in the towel, but my faith in God and my belief in myself and my team wouldn’t let me give up.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
It is definitely difficult to balance work and my personal life. I am married and we have two young children. In the beginning I can say that I did not do a good job at all.
I would try to respond to emails and take phone calls all while trying play a video game with my sons or throw the football, and my kids would just get frustrated. I have learned to prioritize family over anything, and that is the culture we are building within our organization.
For example, Richard Ciarletta, our COO recently had his first child and of course he would need time to adjust and I wanted him to know that Seedlyng has his back, so take care of your family and let us know how we can support you.
Richard and I talk constantly about the importance of making sure we are focused on building a company culture of ‘family first.’ We want our employees to know that we understand the importance of being there for your family.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
Seedlyng was founded by educators for educators. During my time in the classroom I noticed the lack of financial literacy being taught to our students, and this really bothered me.
So, instead of complaining about the issue I decided to create something to solve the problem. I created a mobile financial literacy app that can be used by anyone as young as five years old to retirement age.
The app creates a personalized curriculum based on your age and assessment score. We also provide teachers with a web based LMS so they can analyze student data and track their progress.
Our mission is to make sure teachers have everything they need to provide engaging financial literacy content to their students.
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
Seedlyng is different from our competition because we understand what teachers need in the classroom to fully deliver a financial literacy course that makes a difference.
There are a lot of different programs out there, but many of them have a hidden agenda. If it is a bank they want future customers, if it is a celebrity they want more followers and likes; Seedlyng wants more mastery of the financial literacy content from students.
Seedlyng provides teachers with the professional development training they need and deserve. All teachers aren’t finance experts so they will need more support than a Power Point presentation, a gift card, and a free checking account.
We support our teacher’s throughout the school year, we help them analyze data, and we even create new lessons if needed.
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?
Yes, we have found sales, but any future education entrepreneurs must first understand that selling to schools is completely different than selling to anyone else.
The education sales process is very slow, there are a lot of people that have to sign off on your product before it is approved. EdTech companies are dealing with kids so it is important that districts vet our products to ensure that students are receiving the best and safest products.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your business, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge Seedlyng has faced is finding the right content that aligns with our mission. After a long search we found the perfect partner, Centsai Education.
Centsai Education is a financial literacy content company founded by Arindam Nag and Doria Lavagnino. Centsai creates articles, lessons, videos, and quizzes for all age groups.
Centsai is a perfect partner becuase their content aligns with the Council for Economic Education standards.
This is very important because school districts require your content to match what the CEE says should be taught.
This is a perfect partnership because Centsai creates the content, but take it and create a curriculum that is easy to use for teachers in the classroom.
What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in Texas over other states in the US?
Texas is HUGE! There are so many school districts and lives Seedlyng can change just in our home state. Of course, we will not turn any out of state districts away but Texas really is the land of opportunity for us.
We have been awarded as approved vendors for 19 school districts in Texas, like Arlington ISD, Irving ISD, Keller ISD, Garland ISD, Spring ISD, and more.
Texas school districts are placing a real focus on financial literacy and we are the right company to ensure that ALL Texans have the opportunity to improve their financial IQ.
Are there any disadvantages of operating our business in Texas?
No, I honestly have not found any disadvantages. Texas is a great spot to lauch a startup in my opinion.
Texas has a pretty diverse population. How have you found the quickly changing demographics have impacted your business? Have you got new opportunities? Managed to expand your business into new areas?
The quickly changing demographics have helped our business. Since we target economically disadvantaged schools those schools are usually home to very diverse populations.
It is often reported that, in Texas, politics and business are intertwined. Have you noticed this? Has it impacted your business?
No, Texas government politics have not impacted our business, but school politics have. It is very unfortunate that many school districts are not putting more focus on financial education for their students.
Schools focus mainly on Reading and Math, which of course are the foundations for all learning, but financial literacy is perfect bridge to help give students opportunities to actually apply what they are learning in Reading and Math in real life.
With rising prices across Texas (and the US as a whole) have you been impacted? Do you have a plan for dealing with inflation going forward?
Since our tools are mostly digital and we can provide our services via Zoom and Google Meets we are prepared for anything that comes our way.
The pandemic moved our plans up to launch our products virtually, but the feedback we have received has been so good and now it is our number one option requested by schools and nonprofits.
What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years with your business?
In the next 5 years, Seedlyng plans to expand across the US and internationally. We have launched pilots in Chicago, Idaho, DC, and also in Lebanon in the Middle East. We plan to become the number one financial literacy provider for schools and nonprofits.
This will be a tough task, because there are a lot of different companies creating financial literacy tools, but as more states are starting to require financial literacy for graduation this will create more opportunities to shine, because we are aligned to state standards, have the most engaging content, and we provide datat analysis tools so we can track student growth.
And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?
We work with schools, banks, nonprofits, and we also have an Employee Wellness program for businesses. We do it all!