Dori Roberts had a vision. The Stafford County resident and then Colonial Forge High School teacher wanted to expand her enthusiasm for math and technology by starting an engineering program for children. The idea took off, and Engineering For Kids was created in 2009. What started off as a camp in the Courthouse Community Center classroom in Stafford has now expanded to over 60 franchises in 20 states and four countries. Engineering For Kids offers camps, classes, clubs, and parties for kids ages 4-14 as a fun way to unite science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts.
Roberts shares about balancing her entrepreneurial spirit and motherhood.
FP: Tell us a little about your family.
DR: I am married to local attorney, Chuck Roberts, with two children — Kaley, 12, and Matthew, 10.
FP: What made you decide to start an engineering program for kids?
DR: While I was teaching Engineering at Colonial Forge High School, I was also the advisor of the school's Technology Student Association. I was able to take this club to four state championships. In 2008, I took the team to the National Competition in Orlando, Fla. I decided to take my children with me on the trip. I observed Kaley and Matthew's excitement in what the high school students were doing. They wanted to compete, too! They were in awe with all the animatronics devices, dragsters and architecture models. When we returned to Stafford from the event, I began looking for engineering programs for them. When I saw that there were no programs offered, I decided to start Engineering For Kids.
FP: Tell us about one of your "aha" moments that confirmed what you had set out to accomplish.
DR: When my first program filled up! I started out offering summer camps. Even though my husband was very supportive of me starting this business, he said to me, "You know we are in the middle of a terrible recession; don't be surprised if you don't get very many kids in your camp." My response was, "I'll be happy if I can just get 15 students." After opening up registration, I had 50 students sign up in only a few weeks.
FP: Your programs took off and you began franchising. How did you know you were ready to make such a big commitment to the cause?
DR: I started to get parents emailing me from all over the country. They were Googling engineering programs for kids in their own areas and fell upon my website. They were emailing me to ask me if I was going to be opening an Engineering For Kids in their area so that they could sign their kids up. I began thinking about ways to grow Engineering For Kids to reach families in communities around the country and decided that franchising was the best way to grow Engineering For Kids because you have that owner-operator who knows their community best.
FP: What do you hope your children (and/or former students) will gain from watching your progression from teacher to CEO?
DR: My hope is that my journey will inspire them to work hard and dream big. Not only have my children been able to see this business grow, but several of my students from Colonial Forge High School have been working for me for several years as teachers and trainers.
FP: How do you balance running a company and family life?
DR: It is not easy, but I have involved my family every step of the way. It is truly a family business and I can see the pride that my children have in this business. From the very beginning, they helped me fold flyers and stuff envelopes. They love coming to the office with me and I try to involve them as much as possible. It's great to see them get as excited as I do each time we open a new location.
FP: What has been the biggest challenge balancing work and motherhood?
DR: Turning off business! I have a love/hate relationship with my cell phone. While it is nice to stay connected at all times to my staff, franchisees and prospects, I have to make myself turn it off. When I am at home, I turn the sound off on my phone so that I am not tempted to run to my phone every time I hear a notification. I find it important to turn off business and set time aside for family only.
FP: Advice for mothers thinking of starting their own business?
DR: Go for it! Owning my own business has been a lot of hard work, but I now can't imagine ever working for someone else. I love being in control of my own time and money. Seeing the pride that my family has in me and Engineering For Kids is priceless!