— ECDI has a proven track record serving non-tech, “Main Street” businesses, often those deemed by traditional financial institutions as too risky to support. These include food, retail, service, transportation, health & wellness, and educational & social center startups like Jerzell Pierre-Louis’ Sprout Early Education Center.
In the past three years, 92 ECDI loans totaling $1,108,852 have been disbursed to education & social-based business owners, accounting for over 13 percent of ECDI’s total loans disbursed. Entrepreneurs like Jerzell help shape the young minds of tomorrow by providing a nurturing environment where students feel safe, loved and accepted, creating a climate that enables young minds to develop boundlessly. This is her story. —
Practicing what was preached
Jerzell Pierre-Louis was born with the entrepreneurial spirit running through her veins. Her mom owned and operated her own business, while she and her father, a police officer, stressed to Pierre-Louis from an early age the importance education plays in achieving one’s goals. Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi only further drove that point home.
“If it wasn’t for my parents, I would have never understood the importance of establishing a strong educational foundation to rely upon,” Pierre-Louis said. “I had friends whose parents didn’t provide that, which we now know can have detrimental effects on one’s development during the adolescent stage.”
Pierre-Louis’ studious journey led her to Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Education, and then to The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology, where she earned her Master’s Degree. After college and graduate school, she held various jobs within the education realm, working as a middle school teacher, and then both as an educational consultant and advocate for increased access to early childhood development resources. Serving as Director of Education and Youth Services for The Columbus Urban League, Pierre-Louis oftentimes came face-to-face with at-risk youths, reminiscent of her childhood friends.
Despite all the effort she had put into helping to mold the future leaders of tomorrow, she felt she could do more and still pined to make a larger impact. The plight that finally turned that ambition into action, while uncomfortable to reminisce about, led Pierre-Louis down a path she is forever grateful for.
“After the fallout from the sexual harassment scandal that occurred while I was serving as Chief of Staff in the Franklin County Auditor’s Office, I felt I had become the scapegoat for the event and I didn’t want to ever feel like my destiny was in someone else’s hands,” Pierre-Louis reflects. “I wanted to create a business where staff felt both respected and part of the greater good – a professional family environment.”
Forging a new path
Thankfully that unfortunate experience, coupled with the values she was taught by her parents at an early age, shaped the concept for Sprout Early Education Center, Pierre-Louis’ entrepreneurial endeavor she opened in 2014. From the onset, Pierre-Louis knew a business like this would only be as strong as the educational foundation it stands upon. To offer the intimate services catered to fit an adolescent child’s needs successfully, Pierre-Louis knew she had to surround herself with a staff that were not only well-trained, but also natural caregivers.
“Especially when dealing with infants, I knew I had to find individuals that not only had the degree and certifications, but also had compassion and truly had a heart for kids,” Pierre-Louis said. “I never set out to simply provide the ‘franchise view’ of education…when dealing with adolescents, there is no one-size fits all model so it’s incredibly important to establish a trusting relationship between parents and staff.”
Sprout Early Education Center works to establish a familial rapport with parents from the onset. Parents aren’t looked at as simply clients but rather pivotal partners in their child’s development. Each plan is carefully crafted based on the child’s needs. Whether it’s a unique dietary constraint or a strict sleeping schedule, Sprout programming is deliberately malleable, creating an adaptive environment where social and academic skills can flourish. No detail regarding healthy development is overlooked. Even Sprout’s lunches are privately catered with all-natural organic foods, instilling healthier eating choices at an early age.
While these wrap-around services have proven successful to the children cared for at Sprout, Pierre-Louis goes above and beyond by additionally providing free social services to Central Ohio parents. As a mother of three herself, Pierre-Louis easily relates to the needs she hears from other parents and tries to address them on a continual basis.
“We routinely schedule services that parents can take advantage of that aim to create a greater bond between them and their child,” Pierre-Louis notes. “This month we’ve already had a pediatric sleep therapist onsite to discuss various adolescent sleeping problems. We’ve had pediatric masseuses come in and teach effective ways to calm children during tantrums. These opportunities are free, regardless of if your child is enrolled at Sprout or not, and have been well received in the community.”
Lessons learned through entrepreneurship
Pierre-Louis came to ECDI seeking a loan to grow her business. Having used all the personal funds she could, she needed a capital infusion to support the payroll of her staff, currently up to 11 members today. With ECDI’s support, Pierre-Louis was able to grow her client base at an appropriate pace, enabling her business to become self-sustaining.
When asked what advice Pierre-Louis would give to others that are interested in starting down their own entrepreneurial path, the answer should come as to no surprise.
“Seek help all the time,” Pierre-Louis stresses. “You need to constantly educate yourself on the latest trends in your industry and do not be scared to reach out to experts in areas you need guidance. When I started Sprout, I didn’t have a job. All I had was a dream and a vision and I continually communicated that to anyone who would listen and eventually, I found myself surrounded by people who believed in me. Owning your own business isn’t easy. I often leave tired but I also leave knowing that I have found my purpose in life. I am making the impact that I always yearned to make.”
Sprout Early Education Center, located at 415 E. Main St., Columbus, OH, 43215, is taking enrollments continuously. To learn more about the services they provide, give them a call at 614-233-7776 or reach out via email at [email protected]. For more information, visit sprout4kids.com.
Since 2004, ECDI has assisted Ohio’s entrepreneurs through their one-stop-shop business services model, suited to meet the needs of all entrepreneurs, regardless of what business stage they’re in. From providing capital to entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses, to providing focused, business-specific educational opportunities to enhance entrepreneurial skill sets, ECDI works with their clients to meet their specific needs. Whether you merely have a business idea or are opening up your fifth location, ECDI’s “never say no” approach has allowed over ten thousand entrepreneurs to take advantage of the services they provide. Visit www.ecdi.org today to learn more.