4 Essential Traits For Education Entrepreneurs – Barbara Russell at AEP


Barbara Russell, founder of Options Publishing, was honored at the Association of Education Publishers (AEP) awards breakfast this week in New York. She spoke about entrepreneurship in the education market and why it matters to those of us who care deeply about providing schools with innovative high quality instructional products.

When multi-billion dollar companies like Pearson, Houghton / Riverdeep / Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill consolidate much of the business we need entrepreneurs driving change at the margins. Without pressure from this dynamic source our industry will collapse under its own weight.

She began by outlining the four characteristics that she believes entrepreneurs share.

They are hands on with customers. – You have to be fully engaged and listening. All the successful entrepreneurs she knows worked their trade show booths – hearing ideas and issues directly from customers and prospects. She mentioned Tom Milano , Rachelle Cracchiola, and Bill Evans as examples of this ethic.

<img alt="472147_dime.jpg" src="/files/2013/05/472147_dime.jpg" width="170" height="170" align="right" style="margin-left: 5px" /They adapt to changing markets – Successful entrepreneurs turn their companies on a dime when a good idea comes their way. They are able to deliver product while the big companies are still debating whether to do it. Years before formative assessment became the rage Barbara cooked up the Comprehensive Reading Assessment at Laguardia Airport with a couple of customers. Six months later it was released and went on to deliver $2m in revenue its first full year in the market.

They are more focused on doing than planning – In her experience you don’t plan on becoming an entrepreneur. After 19 years in the classroom she started Options and within 12 years had build a $19 million business. I believe she meant that there was an element of leap – then look.

They find and nurture partners – She mentioned people who were her trusted partners throughout the construction of Options. Some came on as employees who started answering the phones and proved themselves, others were business partners who drove product innovation. The money quote:

“You are only as good as the people around you. You can’t do it alone.”

Congratulations to Barbara and the other award winners – it was a great event and a nice way to honor those who have contributed to our common welfare.