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Business Observer Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 1 month ago

Instead of pushing carts at Publix, an ambitious student starts a tutoring company

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After seeing solid results in one student after a single tutoring lesson, high school student Larissa Lippe found herself building a company. Now she aims to grow a sustainable business.
by: Amanda Postma Sarasota-Manatee Editor

At 16-years-old, Larissa Lippe proved she was more ambitious than most. 

A high school student in Sarasota, Larissa founded a private tutoring company that caters to students K-12 in a broad range of topics, from English to math to foreign languages. Her business, Smart Kids Tutor LLC, got its start in January, when Larissa tutored a student and noticed a difference after just one session. That’s when she came up with the company’s purpose: “It’s smart kids helping smart kids.”  

Currently, Smart Kids operates with 10 tutors who have catered/are catering to 30 students. It offers both in-person and virtual tutoring classes, and students range throughout Sarasota County, in seven to 10 different schools. Tutors are local and global — one tutor attends college in Canada. "All of us are student-teachers,” says Larissa, “which makes it a lot easier to relate to our kids.” 

Larissa is now 17 and an international baccalaureate and advanced placement student at Riverview High School in south Sarasota. A senior, she's also a martial arts instructor and the president of the History Honors Society and the Speech and Debate club. Her college plans: Brown University, where she plans to pursue a double major in biology and business.

Larissa's knowledge base and unusual-for-her-age go-getter attitude is partially responsible for her company’s success. Behind a model of trial and error, she's also already learned a valuable business lesson, in remaining nimble and adapting to situations on the fly. One other credit for her success, so far, goes to her father, Gordon Lippe, who has assisted with filing taxes and filing for her LLC, among other tasks. 

She also remembers speaking with her dad, a former chef and current owner of Your Culinary Place in Sarasota one day. During the conversation, she realized she was at the top of her class at Riverview. While most other bright students in her position were pushing carts at Publix, she wanted to do something impactful on the community while also putting her skills to work. “There’s this untapped potential with these extremely intelligent individuals,” she says. 

Larissa also wanted a reason to prove the stigma surrounding tutoring wrong. That stigma is if you need tutoring, it probably means you aren’t smart. “I’m trying to expose to a new generation that tutoring is a good thing and can be fun,” she says. She also wants to give other students like herself an opportunity to realize their potential. 

For now, and to keep up with the relatability aspect, Larissa is focused on keeping her tutors around the high school or early college age. Like most good employers, Larissa has a grueling interview process to weed out the ones who aren't the right fit. She starts out with a Zoom interview to ask questions and look over the applicants resume. Then she has them teach. Anything. They just have to be able to teach her about something. “I want to know how you teach,” she says. “I want to make sure you’re a good fit for the company.” 

If applicants are invited back, they have to teach a lesson related to the subject they’re applying for. This part of the process is an hour-long session with Larissa's middle school sister. Once they’ve been hired, the tutor sits down with the student and parent(s) to develop a tutoring plan. 

Smart Kids Tutor targets elementary and middle schools in Sarasota County. It sponsors classes through the adopt-a-class program to get the word out and posts signs and flyers around the schools. 

“In addition to tutoring, I’m glad we have the ability to help the kids and teachers in the classroom,” she says. The adopt-a-class program provides Larissa an opportunity to donate money to the class, which goes entirely to the teacher. By doing so, Larissa says the donation increases the resources in the classroom, in turn increasing the quality of learning the students receive. 

The virtual tutoring lessons are a bit different than ones provided through school. Larissa says her team hosts interactive lessons, encouraging students to interrupt. “With virtual tutoring, you can’t just talk for them to understand it,” she says. “We want you to interrupt and ask questions.” 

Larissa did extensive market research in terms of what to charge for sessions. She also contacted a number of private tutors nationwide, for a price point survey. Her decision? She kept pricing well below the national average. Larissa says the majority of people spend $100 an hour on ACT or SAT prep, but Smart Kids Tutor charges $60. The company charges $40 an hour for general class, test prep and homework prep. 

Larissa says she wants to make tutoring accessible and affordable for everyone, and that’s how she’s going to destigmatize people not taking student tutoring seriously. 

As Smart Kids Tutor continues to grow, Larissa is focused on developing the virtual aspects of the company. With several of the current tutors going off to Ivy League schools next year, Larissa hopes they’ll be able to provide online tutoring sessions around their school schedules. 

While starting any company has its challenges, doing it during COVID-19 presented specific hurdles to overcome. Fortunately, offering virtual tutoring sessions wasn’t one of those for Larissa and her team of tutors. “All our tutors have had experience of doing virtual learning,” she says. “We have an understanding of how it works.” 

 

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