By Debbie Adams
“Did you know that the poverty rate in Roanoke is 21.6 percent in comparison to 11.2 percent for the Commonwealth of Virginia? What we know is that 43 percent of adults living in poverty have low literacy rates leading to generational illiteracy and innumeracy. It is well established that the children of adults living in poverty come to school with a readiness gap leading to lower test scores and higher drop-out rates. We also know that these children move quickly through the school-to-prison pipeline.”
That’s the opening of the elevator pitch from Teresa Lyons, an entrepreneur in this year’s Gauntlet Business Program and Competition. Now in its seventh year, the Gauntlet has welcomed a host of different businesses–both new and expanding–for a 10-week session of business classes, followed by a competition for approximately $300,000 annually in cash and in-kind prizes.
Participants are asked to come up with a succinct synopsis to introduce their business to someone they might randomly encounter on an elevator ride.
Lyons’ elevator speech continues, “Through the application of the science of learning, we are leading the way in addressing the readiness for learning gap for the neediest of Roanoke’s citizens. We bring high quality and rigorous instruction to our children through a model that provides individualized instruction delivered by learning scientists that are trained and certified in the application of the science of learning across core academic subjects including reading and mathematics. We quickly close the achievement gap for our children at a rate of one to two years of academic growth in only three months’ time. We are a non-profit creating a path towards academic excellence that will enable the children of the Roanoke Valley to dream big, accomplish those dreams and to contribute to our future economy.”
“I am in the Gauntlet to start a non-profit that would provide this same rigorous scientific model of instruction to individuals that are unable to access intensive learning services,” said Lyons.
This is not Lyons’ first business. She has been running an educational consulting business since 2014. She now owns Fit Learning Roanoke, which is “the only precision teaching learning lab in the Commonwealth of Virginia. There are currently 40 labs operating in the world. We are a learning lab that produces one to two years of academic growth in 40 hours of instruction.”
The new business she is developing is yet unnamed, but is a non-profit connected to the work of Fit Learning Roanoke. It will be housed in the same location as Fit Learning in the Cave Spring area of Roanoke.
“In 2017, I opened a Fit Learning center and in 2019, I opened Academics Accelerated which provides training to educators and services to individuals needing tutoring services to address exam prep,” Lyons explains.
“In 2019, I participated in the Gauntlet and came in seventh place for my new venture, Academics Accelerated,” said Lyons. She also won $10,145 in cash and prizes in that competition.
Lyons originally learned about the Gauntlet program through several women entrepreneurs who were part of the FemCity group.
In the 2019 Gauntlet session, “I learned so much in the process of growing my business,” Lyons says. “The non-profit world is a new venture for me, and I am looking for support in how to set it up, how to create a board and by-laws, and how to engage in fund-raising.”
Lyons has worked in the field of education for 20 years including as an early childhood special education teacher, an elementary special education teacher for children with autism spectrum disorders, a member of a division assistive technology team, an autism/inclusion specialist, a regional disabilities coordinator, a low incidence disabilities coordinator with Virginia Tech’s Training and Technical Assistance Center, a technical assistance associate with the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Autism Center for Excellence, and as an educational consultant, before becoming director of the Precision Teaching Learning Lab.
In 2012, Lyons became a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). She received her Master’s of Education from Lynchburg College and her Bachelor of Arts from St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, N.Y.
Her work has proven to be very important to the families of children with learning disabilities, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, autism, ADHD, and more. Fit Roanoke programs include FIT reading, math, logic, writing, and penmanship, and a program for early learners, Lil’ Fit.
Lyons says the most challenging aspect of setting up her new business has been “running all of the essential operations of the business as well as providing the services of the business at the same time. As we are on the grow, finding and training new learning coaches presents a new challenge as the work we do requires skilled individuals who are passionate about science and our mission of transforming the lives of children.”
When asked how the Gauntlet has helped her thus far, Lyons says, “I have found the numerous business leaders and their mentorship to be most helpful. I have found that their ability to see through the details to look at the big picture has been instrumental in pushing me forward in my vision.”
This year’s Gauntlet program is virtual. Lyons says meeting virtually is not particularly challenging, but “the piece that I miss the most is the face-to-face networking. Virtual has created limitations to the level of networking that I participated in during the 2019 Gauntlet.”
Gauntlet participants are asked to identify the clients they plan to serve. Lyons says hers will be the “families of children living in poverty. I plan to partner with existing organizations that use volunteers to provide services.
It my goal to work with them to identify those children who need more intensive services than can be provided by their organization.”
Gauntlet entrepreneurs are also asked to evaluate the competition their business will face. Lyons says there is little competition in her field.
“The existing non-profits use volunteers to provide more of a tutoring/enrichment experience,” she says. “We will be the only organization providing a rigorous, scientific model to children in need of intensive academic interventions.”
“Teresa Lyons is making a huge impact on children,” said Shannon Dominguez, Director of Business Development for The Advancement Foundation (TAF) and facilitator of this year’s Gauntlet program. “We are excited to see her come back through The GAUNTLET to create opportunities for marginalized communities through a non-profit. We know she will be very successful and do very well!”
Gauntlet business classes end in April with business plans judged and finalists announced for the competition. Those finalists will pitch their businesses to a panel in mid-May. Lyons plans to enter the competition once again for cash and prizes. Winners will be revealed at the Graduation and Awards Ceremony at the end of May.