Written by Jennifer Walker
Education is a ripple effect. It starts with something small like paperwork and it can have major impacts on a student’s lifespan and trajectory. A teacher is a person that a child spends much of his day with. What happens if that teacher is experiencing burn out? One bad day for a fatigued teacher means students may fall behind. “If they don’t learn basic computational math they will have a huge problem trying to learn algebra.”
Hajj Womack started his business after a long career in education. He experienced firsthand the issues teachers face when dealing with outdated workflows. He and many others were overwhelmed with spending so much time filling out attendance forms, progress reports, behavior slips, and more on top of trying to create and execute lesson plans. This multi-layered issue affects teachers, parents, and students. When teachers aren’t at their best, ultimately students don’t get the quality education and engagement they need to keep them on track. Teachers need support so that they can better support students.
Unable to locate a readymade solution, Womack decided to tackle the problem himself. “Innovative School Tools is the company and Teachers in Touch is the software that we built to help teachers help themselves as well as students,” Womack explained, “It means less time on red tape and more on teaching and learning, building lesson plans, engaging directly with students so that our students are doing a lot better in school.”
It’s estimated that 82% of US public schools are not passing the test in educating children. “If we could improve 1% of male graduation rates, we would save a billion dollars in the criminal justice system alone, “says Womack, “If we improve our schools, then society and economy will improve with it.”
In 2017 Womack was working full time as an Instructional Coach and building a business on the side. Womack and his business partner began where they always do – education. They sought out the knowledge they needed to move forward with their idea. He attended an informational seminar for Ascend Atlanta and felt it was an opportunity to dig deeper into business strategy: “I’m an educator and problem solver but the business side was not something I was trained in.”
“In the Ascend program we learned things we didn’t know like marketing, product fit, and pitching. Learning how to pitch and fundraise were the biggest things.” Womack remembers, “Collaborating with the other business owners gave us encouragement and motivation to continue with our goals. We were able to learn from their mistakes and incorporate their success strategies into our own business.”
He was also able to gain resources like a discount at HubSpot, a platform that helps manage customers, get additional training on things like website design, and become privy to fundraising opportunities. Very quickly he secured four new clients. “We thought, if this is what we can do now, what can we do full time?”
He eventually got there in 2020 but, like many entrepreneurs, he found funding to be a significant issue. Womack bootstrapped his business and the global pandemic of 2020 created problems. Womack made the best of the situation and recently received a loan from the government during COVID-19. He had to redirect his marketing and sales efforts to online and email rather than cold calling as most potential clients weren’t in the office anymore. He got his blog up and started focusing on Innovative School Tools’ virtual footprint to attract people to the website.
Despite the hits brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Innovative School Tools continues to grow and thrive. The company has recently opened up an angel round in order to take the business to the next level and is participating in a Diddy Nation accelerator. “Even if they don’t accept you into Ascend,” says Womack, “they will recommend another entity or accelerator that will get you ready for the next and they all build upon each other to elevate you and your business.”
Womack believes that education is the foundation of everything. It was passion for educational success that drove him to start his business. His eagerness to learn is what brought him to Ascend. He would advise every hopeful entrepreneur to reach for their goals. “Don’t tell yourself no,” Womack warns, “You’ll get enough no’s already.”