By Cathy Jett
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
A Stafford County-based franchisor has been named to Entrepreneur.com’s list of the Top 500 Franchises for the second year in a row.
It ranked Engineering for Kids, which offers STEM programs for children ages 4 to 14, in 409th place in 2014. It had grown from 64 locations in 2013 to 118 last year.
“I had hoped, but I didn’t realize that it would happen as fast as it has,” said founder Dori Roberts. “It’s been a surprise that it’s been received as well as it has. You hope it will flourish, but hearing that it is so well-received from different parts of the world is gratifying.”
Roberts, a former Colonial Forge High School teacher, opened her first location at Aquia Park Shopping Center on U.S. 1 in 2011 and had 10 franchise locations the following year. That number had jumped to 64 in 2013, when Engineering for Kids made Entrepreneur.com’s list for the first time. It was ranked 295.
Key factors in making the list include financial strength and stability, growth rate and size of the system. The publication also considers the number of years a company has been in business and the length of time it’s been franchising.
Engineering for Kids introduces children to science, technology, engineering and math concepts through such fun, hands-on activities as using LEGO bricks to build robots and constructing roller coasters.
Franchises offer after-school programs, classes, camps, workshops and birthday parties, as well as programs for home-schooled students, Scouts and parent’s night out events.
Roberts, who was named the Virginia Technology Student Association’s Adviser of the Year in 2008, came up with the idea for her business after taking her son Matthew, then a 3-year-old, along to watch her team win a VTSA competition.
He loved seeing all the animatronic devices, rubber-band-powered model aircraft and other things that teams across the state created. That inspired her to simplify the projects she’d been doing with her students for younger children and offer a weeklong summer camp in Stafford.
It attracted the attention of schools in Stafford, Fredericksburg and Prince William County, which asked her to do after-school engineering programs.
Engineering for Kids now has franchises in 12 countries and 31 states. The owners come from a wide range of backgrounds, Roberts said, but the most are parents.
“They have kids in our target age group, or had kids in that group,” she said, “and they realize there’s a need for this and are passionate about bringing this to their community.
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The success of Engineering for Kids has enabled Roberts to hire people to write additional curricula for the program; open a second company-owned location, which is in Lake Ridge; and, last spring, to start the Engineering for Kids Foundation.
The foundation raises money to provide scholarships to Engineering for Kids programs and STEM programs in schools that might not otherwise have been able to offer them.
“Next spring we’re adding a mentorship program to the foundation,” Roberts said. “We’re hoping to partner with high school students in STEM classes, robotics classes or student associations with elementary school students with similar interests.”