Developing a business idea that can positively affect people, change the way an industry operates and have positive growth in the first five years is a pipe dream for most business owners. For Rob Reynolds, executive director of TEL Library, that is exactly what his company has done.
TEL Library is a client of Moore Norman Technology Center’s Business Development Center and it is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide an affordable college education to students anywhere in the U.S. Their goal? That anyone should be able to complete a year’s worth of college credit under $1,000.
“We offer college courses in partnership with higher education institutions. When students take one of our courses, they receive a full transcript from an accredited university that can transfer to any other university,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds taught at Oklahoma Christian University and the University of Oklahoma before becoming an administrator in IT, and then moving into publishing and developing this education-based startup. From the beginning, Reynolds said they wanted to solve the problem of affordability in higher education. The TEL Library team wanted to find a solution to the question: How can we make it possible for anyone to start their college education? They also seek to re-engineer college learning in a way that makes it possible for high school juniors, seniors and adults to start college without incurring debt and the need for student loans.
It’s taken his team about two years to define processes and build partnerships to put together the dream of truly affordable education. Reynolds said typically, companies determine what it will cost to make a product, followed-up with a market analysis to determine what customers will pay for it. TEL Library took a new approach to this process and instead asked: What does affordability mean for someone working an hourly job and how much could they save in about four months without making unreasonable sacrifices? Through their research, they learned that people in this situation are able to save approximately $75 and that has become a marker for course cost.
Reynolds said they have partnerships with multiple higher education institutions to include Colorado Christian University and Simpson University, but partnerships can be with any institution that can provide college transcripts for TEL Library courses, or colleges and universities that want to offer TEL Library courses in their states for dual credit.
Another aspect of their business revolves around partnerships with public high schools, charter schools like EPIC Charter Schools and home school organizations.
“We build out the college courses, but then go back and make sure those courses are aligned with high school standards. So, if a student takes an American History course, they do not only get college credit for it, but they also get their high school credit; a true dual-credit course,” said Reynolds.
He notes that unlike traditional colleges and universities, TEL Library makes it easy on students by allowing them to stay at their school and immediately enroll in and take a course. He said when a student is ready for a transcript, it can be done easily.
For a college credit course, it’s $75 plus the transcription fee. Transcription fees depend on how many courses a student takes and how many they ask for on the transcript. There’s no textbook cost, no fees – nothing.
“The traditional community college – which is the most inexpensive thing you can do here in the U.S. – on the low end is about $450 for a three-hour course, plus the textbook and institutional fees. Whereas with us, for one course, even with the transcription fees, the maximum you would pay is $200 so it’s a significant savings for students and their families.”
Reynolds said, “This is the third company I’ve either started or been a leader within and one of the challenges is always office space to allow for growth. We were introduced to Moore Norman’s BDC as we looked for options.
“We liked the idea of being in an incubator space where we could start off small and expand and we could do - what we like to do in our products - which is to prototype. The BDC gave us that flexibility and it turned out great because it’s modern and were able to set up just how we want it.”
They became a BDC client and started with one office. As the business grew, they added more offices. Today they have five BDC offices and a 20 x 40 ft. bay that is converted into a large office space that holds six employees and includes a creative and collaboration area.
They have seen progressive growth since becoming clients of the BDC and Reynolds said the transition points during each stage of growth was a simpler process because of the flexibility in space that the BDC provides. He describes the BDC team as partners in his company’s planning throughout every phase of growth as they would regularly ask him about spatial needs and then accommodate.
He said often when starting a company, it is also cost-effective to hire a young staff and train them, but being associated with MNTC provides the option for him to hire qualified interns and graduates from various MNTC career programs as a staffing solution. The BDC can then provide employee and professional development training either themselves or through MNTC’s short-term classes, of which his employees have taken classes in marketing, sales and software productivity.
“The BDC has been helpful in a number of ways, and it’s been an interesting opportunity to learn from the other entrepreneurs at the BDC. We all have different expertise and experiences, but being in the break room or at meet-ups that the BDC organizes allows us to have somewhat of a larger executive team and share information and ideas about running businesses,” said Reynolds.
He said being a BDC client has given his company a three-year financial advantage because of office space affordability and access to facilities like the multiple conference rooms and AV equipment on-site, but the advantage extends to even larger presentation spaces at the South Penn Campus.
When we meet with our clients and investors it’s in a professional and beautiful atmosphere, that makes a tremendous difference to our outcomes. The BDC and Moore Norman let us do that.
TEL Library graduates from the BDC in December and Reynolds is confident that with such a strong start to this venture, he estimates they’ll continue solid growth through 2021. He said through the use of the BDC they have been able to model for themselves the best pathway for growth and expansion.
“It’s a big milestone knowing that you’re not only big enough to move out but also that you’re successful enough to move out. I would tell a small or medium business looking at their next steps to consider the BDC. You may be stagnated because you need information resources or coaching to get out of that situation. If you’re leading a small team and trying to grow, you’re overwhelmed. The BDC can help with all of this.
“You also have other business owners around you who have walked in your shoes, have the same problems you have and they have ideas to share about financing, fundraising and staffing that you might not have thought of,” said Reynolds.
MNTC's Business Development Center (BDC) is a safe-growth environment that supports business startups as they move through a journey of evolution and maturity. For more information, visit us online or call (405) 801-5890.