Is there such a thing as entrepreneurial genes?
Can business skills be learned in school?
Can entrepreneurship be sustained by passion?
If the answer to these questions is “Yes,” then there is no way Mona Liza Lee-Serrano could have missed the entrepreneurial calling.
The 32-year-old Tsinay from Manila was born to a family with a strong business orientation. Her family owns Cherubin Rubber Corp., the first and still the only balloon manufacturing company in the country. She had a typical Chinese upbringing where children help in the family enterprise when they are not busy at school.
She took entrepreneurship in college, finishing cum laude and valedictorian of her class—the first batch of Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurship graduates of Miriam College.
Taking entrepreneurship was a good decision, she says on hindsight.
“As early as second year, we were conceptualizing business plans. If we failed in one, we tried another.” She describes the learning environment at Miriam as open, free and generous, with opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them.
To gain another perspective, she took a course in product development at Philippine Trade Training Center (PTTC).
It was a different ball game at PTTC, she learned. Where at Miriam she was given templates every step of the way, coupled by constructive criticisms, at PTTC she had to do things from scratch and face unexpected hurdles. The program culminated in a product exhibit at PTTC.
She is glad she learned at Miriam that entrepreneurship is fighting tough in times of adversity.
Her stint in baking did not flourish, although her cheesecakes and cookies sold like hot cakes for six months. She stopped when she realized the demand for these goods was seasonal and that there were others more skilled, informed and better connected for such a venture.
Taking a breather from her entrepreneurial struggles, she went to the US and took an MBA at Alliant International University, San Diego, California. She taught there for a semester.
Back in the Philippines, she taught entrepreneurship at Miriam College and eventually chaired the entrepreneurship department. She then got married and managed an events company and a property management business with her husband.
When babies started coming, she decided to devote all her time to her family.
Full-time mothering meant tutoring her kids daily, with great results. Her coparents started to seek advice from her on mentoring methods she found effective. She heard them complain of the dearth of tutoring centers that effectively answer children’s learning needs. They agreed there was a gap to be filled.
Soon, she met experienced teachers who also were also looking to address “the gap.”
Mona started doing her own research. Thus, a business idea was spawned.
Mona’s Thinking Hats Mentoring Center opened last September at Festival Supermall, Muntinlupa City.
It offers math, reading and Filipino enrichment programs for preschoolers, graders and high-schoolers, as well as a preschool review program for kids planning to enter big, prestigious schools.
Her partners include a doctor and two retired teachers who developed the core programs of Thinking Hats. One is a former principal of Southville International University and the other is a former registrar of De La Salle Zobel. Currently, the center has six full-time mentors plus a pool of teachers on call.
Mona ticks off Thinking Hat’s competitive edge: Commitment to service, collaborative spirit, integrity. “We see to it that we develop, more than rote learning, comprehension and critical thinking.” The center uses a three-fold method: Thinking lab (tactile objects), thinking pad (iPad as an educational tool) and thinking pen (worksheets with teacher-student interaction).
The first months were fraught with logistic problems but “I foresaw that. The leasing terms, the tenant-landlord relationship—all these were straightened out in time,” she said.
She anticipates more problems, like managing the human resource side. She wants her staff to be the best and thus have to continually train and motivate them and meet their expectations.
Marketing is critical.
“Word of mouth works; you have to talk with people.” She and her team joined school fairs, built networks, distributed brochures and put up tarps.
If marketing is critical, delivery of the service is central.
“We had only a month to train the teachers. We had to run a crash program. Thus, their initial performance was short of expectations.”
Mona acted quickly. “We now have a teaching manual. All modules are up. All our teachers are licensed and our program coordinators well-seasoned.”
Thinking Hats is enjoying early success. Mona points to a 100-percent passing rate of students who took the preschool review program. “They were all admitted to schools of their choice.”
She is upbeat about her market. Beyond Woodrose, San Beda, De La Salle Zobel and Southridge in Muntinlupa, she eyes markets in Parañaque, Las Piñas, Cavite, and Laguna.
This is a business she is confident about “because I have passion for it. It is God-entrusted. We want to help not only children and parents but also to help create quality graduates in whose hands the country’s future lies.”
(Mona Serrano is one of the entrepreneurs featured in the upcoming book for entrepreneurship teachers at college level, “Windows to Entrepreneurship: A Teaching Guide,” by the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (Serdef). For more entrepreneurial stories, visit the Serdef website at www.serdef.org.)