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Dream Big, Start Small: A Story of Passion and Purpose To Make a Change in Education

By Eloïse Engel, Caitlin Harrison, and Hannah Woodhead
Dream Big, Start Small: A Story of Passion and Purpose To Make a Change in Education

The Awesomenicity founders collaborating while thousands of miles away. (Photo source: Eloïse Engel, Caitlin Harrison, Hannah Woodhead)

The world is filled with exceptional educators with innovative ideas who want to make a difference. Changes can take place on a small scale, in a department or school, or on a large scale, inspiring a tectonic shift in learning and teaching. It was with courage and a shared dream that we (Hannah, Caitlin, and Eloïse) embarked on a journey to make a difference in education. Over the course of three years, we built something big - Awesomenicity - a math learning platform offering engaging, differentiated math lessons so that all learners can thrive.

This article focuses on the lessons we learned while making our dream come true and sharing some takeaways that might be helpful or inspiring for others looking to make a difference.

How It All Started

While enduring online learning during COVID, we realized that students and teachers needed creative tools to learn and assess online and that this need would persist after the pandemic, we had an idea of how to positively impact learning.

Getting to where we are now with our math learning platform, which is smaller than what we envisioned but with plans for growth, took us down roads we never imagined traveling. What we thought would take months has taken years. What we thought would be a side gig turned into a full-time job for two of us. Ownership was restructured midway. Financing was always tight. Did we think we would get this rolling with just some advice from friends and family members? Yeah. Did we end up hiring a web designer, a team of web developers, a lawyer, and an accountant instead? Yeah. We were and still are, first and foremost, educators. But we learned on the fly, adapted, and changed everything (more than once) in order to get to where we are. Here are the guideposts that helped us turn our dream into Awesomenicity.

Perseverance and Humor

Though we worked together in Malawi, first COVID and then life split us onto three different continents. Living across 15 time zones required flexibility to meet and work together. We got up in the middle of the night to interview web developers across the world. We embraced dark morning hours sitting on porches or in our pantries so as not to wake others while refining our ideas and working together on lessons and business strategies. We worked while traveling with loved ones, on beaches, in parking lots, airports, planes, and cars, on top of volcanoes, and in the African bush, knowing that we had a goal and needed to keep going. Our pets always kept us company.

(Photo source: Eloïse Engel, Caitlin Harrison, Hannah Woodhead)

We had nights we couldn’t sleep for worry about the financial side of things, timelines, marketing, etc. Instead of these worries demotivating us, they made us stronger and pushed us to look for answers we didn’t have at the beginning. We laughed, sending each other animal gifs that captured our feelings at that moment. We gave each other pep talks. We drank hot tea together (across oceans) and made jokes about how we would be moguls one day, finding moments to be silly and not worry.

Collaboration and Communication

When we started Awesomencity, we promised each other that we would communicate with honesty and compassion. Open and honest communication based on trust and kindness is the foundation of any team. Collaborating while thousands of miles apart was challenging. Overcoming this challenge made us realize how awesome our team could be.

We embraced our individual strengths and allocated tasks with this in mind. Hannah and Caitlin, two teachers, are the creative brains behind each lesson, while Eloïse, a Principal, comes with big-picture knowledge of curriculum, assessment, and schools’ needs.

We set realistic goals, looking at the resources and the time we each had. We set realistic deadlines in order to avoid frustration and burnout. We communicated when things didn’t move forward and adjusted as needed. Hannah and Caitlin decided to work full-time on Awesomenicity while Eloïse kept her full-time Principal job and consulted on the side. We fostered a culture of flexibility and encouragement. We offered constructive feedback to one another, always being supportive and respectful as well as honest and straightforward, and celebrated small achievements along the way.

Openness to Grow and Develop Skills

As experienced educators, we have the pedagogical, instructional, and curricular knowledge needed in order to create outstanding teaching material. We are determined, flexible, and open-minded. However, what we didn’t know was how to start a business. We had to learn the following skills:

  • Entrepreneurial

Luckily, we talked with a friend who had started a successful business from scratch, and he shared his experience and advice with us. “Don’t take an investor.” “Start small.” “Believe in yourself.” “Come up with a business plan and co-founder contract.” His wisdom motivated and guided us, helping us to make decisions.

  • Tech

We have come to understand website development and related back-end development languages and frameworks. We hired an incredible team of web developers in England and the Philippines that helped us put our ideas into action and create a professional learning platform.

  • Graphic design

We dove into this world and looked at hundreds of websites to understand how to design an eye-catching website for educators and students that is playful, appealing, and easy to navigate.

  • Business

We quickly understood that we needed copious professional development to understand how to develop a clear strategic plan that would help us understand opportunities and challenges along the way of our business journey.

  • Financial and legal

Creating a professional platform costs money and we needed to learn about intellectual property laws, trademarking, and copyrights in order to protect our business’s branding content.

We hired lawyers to create co-founder agreements and help with trademarking. Bills popped up here, there, and everywhere. Web designers and web developers are not cheap, and we needed to buy storage space to place our platform on. We had to take a close look at budgeting, financial forecasting, cost analysis, risk management, taxation, and legal obligations. Luckily, we met/hired amazing people along the way who guided and supported us in this.

  • Market research and advertising

We spent months diving into market research and analyzing demographics, and the interests and behaviors of educators, students, and parents. We slowly created our values, mission, and vision. We thought about branding ideas that reflected these and would guide us and reassure people about our product.

Staying Up to Date

Over the course of the years, we have offered workshops for educators in Africa and South America on how to teach math in a way that allows all learners to thrive. Engaging in conversations about learning and listening to the challenges educators face in classrooms helped us to further understand what was needed. It pushed us to do more research and stay up to date with the newest teaching approaches and best practices.

Feedback to Feed Forward

While creating Awesomenicity, we received feedback from friends, teachers, and family members. They commented on content, strategies, wording, designs, etc. Thanks to this, we have added curriculum maps, assessments, and rubrics to assist teachers in the classroom. But the feedback cycle never ends. We launched Awesomenicity four months ago. The pressure and vulnerability of having our creation out for anyone to see and critique is real. Listening to understand and to know what feedback to take on board is a useful skill to grow while staying true to ourselves.

Summing It All Up

In the pursuit of making our dream come true, we were fueled by courage, perseverance, and a desire to revolutionize education. The kernel of an idea turned into a vision and finally the creation of Awesomenicity. We have stayed positive and strong during stormy moments and celebrated our victories along the way. We embraced the power of collaboration, humor, and adaptability, overcoming a host of challenges, and nurturing our vision of empowering students and educators worldwide. It is with a grateful heart and big smiles that we can look back on our journey so far. Do you have a dream? What are you waiting for? Get started!


Eloïse Engel, Caitlin Harrison, and Hannah Woodhead are a trio of enthusiastic and experienced international educators who believe that learning should be engaging, differentiated, and inspirational. With over 40 years of combined teaching expertise and a wealth of diverse experiences from teaching in more than 16 countries, we believe that every student has the potential to excel in mathematics and it's our passion to ignite that spark of curiosity within them. We work with educators around the world to foster a love for math, build solid foundations, and equip students with problem-solving skills that extend far beyond the classroom.

LinkedIn: EloiseEngel and Awesomenicity

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04/27/2024 - Mrs D
Congratulations to all 3 of you. I hope to see what you have managed to achieve & how living in Malawi you influenced the way you have developed your learning platform. Wishing you all every success & reach out if you want any input that I may have.
04/26/2024 - Belle
Having worked with these three awesome ladies, I can concur that they are truly amazing, positive and excellent at what they do!!
Congratulations ladies! Starting a business is not easy! Well done for having the courage and never giving up!!!



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