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On a Tuesday evening early this summer, Jay Veal fired up his laptop in Dallas for a tutoring session with a teen in Minneapolis. A rising ninth-grader, the girl had excelled with Veal’s support before her family relocated to the Twin Cities, and she wanted a bit more of a boost from her trusted tutor before starting school.
In these days of pandemic-forced virtual learning, the scenario isn’t particularly unusual. But in this case, the tutor is also the founder and CEO of a multi-state, half-million-dollar startup, INC Education, and a new nonprofit edtech venture, Black Tutors of Social Media (BTSM).
Veal’s hands-on approach has helped propel INC Education’s success since its 2015 launch, and his accessibility continues to yield dividends. “Folks like the fact that I’m still involved with students,” Veal says. “They like that they can actually reach out to the CEO and that I’m part of the team on the ground.”
Continuing to teach also keeps Veal in touch with the challenges — and triumphs — of the INC tutors he manages. That empathy is critical to successful leadership, he believes, particularly in a fully remote environment. And perhaps just as importantly, working with kids keeps Veal grounded in the mission of INC Education: to support Black and minority students and provide the right tools they need to succeed. Today, INC Education works with students from first grade all the way to the doctoral level, in nearly 50 subjects, with100 tutors across the organization in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, Chicago, Austin, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
INC’s growth experience aligns with national data, which reveals rapid expansion in the $633 million U.S. tutoring industry: a 4 percent jump in market size growth this year and 6 percent annualized market size growth since 2015, according to IBISWorld.
More than 16,600 employees currently work in the business — a 5 percent boost since January 2020. And analysts expect a dramatic increase in the need for tutors through the 2020-’21 school year as more parents seek support for kids struggling in the virtual-learning environment.
In a June Gallup survey, 45 percent of families said that kids’ separation from classmates and teachers has been a major challenge, and 44 percent report the same about their student’s attention span and motivation. Layering on the parental time constraints and resource challenges that many families face, particularly in low to moderate-income communities, and the demand for professional support becomes even more urgent.
INC Education and BTSM are poised to help fill that gap. “We’re changing the game for students of color,” Veal says.
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A career in academia wasn’t always part of Veal’s plan. Envisioning himself as a future Fortune 100 CIO, he worked in IT early in his career for companies including Verizon, Microsoft, AT&T and T-Mobile.
But fate intervened. “Within the space of just a few days, I received three emails with information about being an educator,” he recalls. “I decided it was a sign for me to change course.” He earned his certification and headed for the classroom. Veal’s teaching experience illuminated for him something he’d witnessed in his own life as a young Black man: the achievement gap affecting students of color.
Recognizing that kids don’t respond to a cookie-cutter playbook, Veal set out to close that gap with an approach that focused on building trusting relationships, addressing students’ needs beyond the classroom, and designing a curriculum that was flexible and customizable.
“I was able to apply the experience I’d had growing up, and also my zig-zaggy career path, and relate that to my students,” Veal says. “I could appreciate their circumstances and I knew how to create relationships with them and help them grow.”
The holistic approach worked. In a freshman class that condensed three years of pre-Advanced Placement math into one, all of Veal’s students earned 100 percent on the state exam. The same level of success replicated across nearly all of his classes. “I knew at that point that this was a gift,” he remarks.
After eight years in the classroom, eager to effect change on a broader scale, Veal created INC Tutoring — now INC Education.
“You don’t have to be a person of color to get tutored by us,” Veal says. “But we target mostly students of color who need support, who need to be tutored by somebody who looks like them, walks like them and talks like them.”
Nearly 100 instructors now work under the INC Education banner. COO Clinton Maychi says that while the company still has a spirited startup mentality, it also has a solid strategic business plan that’s provided the foundation for smart growth.
“We hire tutors who are passionate about education and entrepreneurially minded,” explains Maychi. “Our standards are high,” he says. “We vet our contractors, train them and make sure they’re committed.”
The tutors are managed by INC’s 10-person leadership team, now comprising five regional managers plus sales and marketing professionals. “And we’re profitable,” Veal adds.
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The future looks bright
In September, Dallas-based Veal and team will open a second headquarters, in Atlanta, drawn to the city’s flourishing Black startup and tech community. Also in September, INC Education will spearhead the website launch of BTSM, the world’s first central directory of Black-owned private tutoring companies.
Veal identified the opportunity earlier this year after fielding multiple inquiries from families looking for support for their now-homebound kids. Although INC’s model has always favored the remote learning environment, the demand for online tutors has exploded during the pandemic.
The idea for BTSM has grown to include additional community services such as virtual college tours, guidance counseling and courses in entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Students will have free access to the site and its resources; tutors and other service providers, after a rigorous vetting process, will pay a monthly subscription fee to join.
“We want this to be an organization that’s community-based,” Veal says. “And we want the best for all students — not just students of color — so they can earn the GPAs they deserve and really thrive.”