With over 30 years of teaching between them, it was while itching in a special school for children with dyslexia Sarah Lumsden Watchorn and Sarah Dieck Maguire saw how many children with dyslexia needed extra resources, but nothing was available on the market. That inspired them to create The Reading Academy – an online educational platform that provides a platform to teach children with difficulty reading:
- To someone who may not be aware, describe what The Reading Academy does?
The Reading Academy provides specialised solutions for children with dyslexia and training for teachers so that they can then teach the programme to children with dyslexia.
- How did two teachers get to co-founding their own business?
Together we have over 30 years teaching children with dyslexia. We both worked in a special school for children with dyslexia. One of us was the Assistant Principal there. The school had to turn away so many children with dyslexia, simple because they didn’t have enough places for them. That’s when we realised we could set up our own programme.
- How did the company begin and how has it grown since?
We started with 2 areas (Greystones and Belmullet), however, we saw the demand nationally so pre-covid we started to go down the softwear route, so that more children could have access to it. We have now grown into having 4 centres (including Monkstown and Castleisland in Kerry) and a fully accessible software programme. Over 250 students have used our programme, and we have trained over 20 teachers and we hope to grow this number in 2022.
- Did you receive any support in the early days of the company in terms of grants etc? Have you received any since?
We were part of the Empower programme from GMIT and since then we joined the New Frontiers Programme and we recently secured the CSS funding. Also received an online training voucher, pre-covid.
- What’s been some of the biggest highlights since launching?
Feedback that we have received from parents and teachers using the programme about how their child has grown using the programme. Putting all of our work in online and CSS funding.
- What’s been some of the biggest challenges since launching?
By far the biggest one is both of us having a full-time job at the same time as running a business. But there’s other issues like getting funding, and some of the unknown expenses in terms of running a company in Ireland.
- Would you have any tips on creating a side-hustle, along with having a full time job?
It’s so important to stay very organised. But it’s also important to keep the two completely separate. This means that you have to keep on top of it, time management is essential. But don’t burn yourself, it’s important to take breaks and have days off too.
- How did you go about putting your board and team together?
We received mentoring on the New Frontiers Programme that was fantastic and that led to networking and meeting people that gave us great advice about building out our board. We now have our advisory board put together but we are still growing our team.
- What effect did the pandemic have on your service?
We were fortunate as we were able to transfer online seamlessly. We had our resources online and the children were able to access this. A positive was that everyone didn’t have to travel to the centres; they could take part in the programme online. But a negative of this is, that this isn’t as effective and children were burnt out from homeschooling. We’ve now had up to 2 years online but we want to get back to face to face. Another positive is that we’ve trained teachers throughout Ireland and the UK on our programme and that’s been really successful.
- Are there any other companies in Ireland in the Diversity and Inclusion space that you are big fans of?
With having full-time jobs, and running the business we really don’t have the time to look at other companies!