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SCORE column: Competition means changes for business

10:16 PM, Feb. 27, 2013  |  Comments
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What happens when you plan to start a new business, and the landscape changes just as you're getting ready to start? That's the dilemma that Jennifer McLaughlin faced while launching an innovative 4K program in the De Pere School District.

About 21/2 years ago, McLaughlin was teaching a 4K program in the Howard Suamico School District when she learned that her own community of east De Pere did not have a similar program.

"This planted a seed inside me to investigate further and see what I might be able to do in assisting with getting a 4K Program offered to the east De Pere community," she said.

After meeting with the superintendent for the Unified School District of De Pere and being told that the district had no plans and no budget to offer a program, McLaughlin began the process of planning a new business specializing in 4K education, the 4K Prep Academy (4kprepacademy.com).

"I developed the curriculum I would use and came up with a preliminary program to share with several elementary school principals in the east De Pere School District," she said. "This was an exciting day as they told me they thought highly of my program and encouraged me to move forward to offer the program independent of the school district."

While McLaughlin had the experience and skill to develop the educational aspects of the program, she didn't know much about starting a business. When she heard about the Stepping Up to New Opportunities program offered by Mark Burwell and his team at Ehub in Green Bay, she quickly enrolled.

In the program, she learned how to determine the feasibility of bringing the business to the marketplace, develop and write a business plan, understand strategic planning, discuss and analyze small-business issues and challenges, and incorporate innovation and leadership principles.

"Upon completion of this rejuvenating, supportive, cupiding and rigorous program," she said, "I succeeded and 4K Prep Academy's business plan was one of the winning plans."

She developed an advisory board of directors, began participating in community events, networked and reached out to the community for support. McLaughlin felt everything was coming together when, earlier this month, she received a sponsorship to help with startup costs. However, her excitement quickly turned to discouragement when, within days, the Unified School District of De Pere announced it would be offering a 4K program for the 2013-14 school year.

After hearing the news and uncertain what her next step should be, she met with advisory board members, and was encouraged to go ahead and give parents an alternative 4K education for their children.

"Our strengths are that we offer a leading educational curriculum, are a small and private facility that can cater to each child's individual educational needs, and we offer a full day 4K program," she said.

Instead of giving up her dream, McLaughlin has defined her niche and will continue to work at making the 4K Prep Academy a standout in preparing young learners for their formal educational years.

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