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Entrepreneur to Watch: Rob Wahl of Symbols Multisensory Learning Centers Inc.

Entrepreneur to Watch: Rob Wahl of Symbols Multisensory Learning Centers Inc.

For our last dad entrepreneur to watch, we’re featuring Rob Wahl. Rob is the co-founder, co-owner and director of business management at Symbols Multisensory Learning Centers Inc., a company that offers individualized tutoring for students who are struggling in school. While Rob takes care of the business side of Symbols, his wife, Kimberley, manages the education side.

When did you start the company?

We incorporated in November 2006, but we officially opened our doors for business in January 2007.

What were you doing before you opened your business?
I had just completed my part-time MBA at UBC and was working full-time as an IT auditor in the internal audit department at UBC.

What inspired you to start your company?

That’s a two-part answer.  My Dad inspired me to become an entrepreneur.  Given his experiences in the corporate world, his knowledge of business and what he knows about my personality and skill set, he has always gently nudged me in that direction.

As for this particular business, my wife was the inspiration.  She worked as an independent tutor for children with learning disabilities before we opened Symbols, and I knew that with her incredible skills in that field (her students’ tremendous success showcased her natural talent) and her amazing work ethic, I truly felt that as partners, we couldn’t go wrong.

What is your company all about?

In a nutshell, it’s all about offering the best, most effective learning experience possible to young, struggling students.  We use the Orton-Gillingham approach, which is multisensory, individualized and phonics based; OG is widely considered to be the most effective way to teach children with learning disabilities like dyslexia.  But at the end of the day, it is simply a highly effective way to teach, so it can be used with any students, not just those with learning disabilities.

Symbols stands out from other centers through our focus on individualization.  We have developed a highly detailed and effective diagnostic assessment that lets us know a new student’s precise strengths and weaknesses in a variety of academic areas, like penmanship, spelling, reading, comprehension, phonological awareness and math.  We make sure every single lesson is individualized to the student’s needs and uniquely planned–and we pay our tutors for that planning time, which is uncommon in this industry.

We also stand out through the efforts we go through to ensure parents are always in the loop and fully informed – our tutors speak with the parents after every single lesson, we have an online system where parents can sign in and read through lesson summaries, we issue a 15-25 page diagnostic report after the diagnostic assessment, and we provide written reports monthly.

What excites you about what you’re doing?

What excites me about Symbols is that we provide a truly feel-good service.

Everything we do is directed towards helping children who are struggling with academics, and their struggles often impact their self-esteem, which is heartbreaking to see.  It’s incredibly uplifting when children begin to see success and you see that boost in their self-esteem.

On a personal level, what excites me about the entrepreneurial life is the flexibility it affords me and my family–I am able to spend a lot of quality time with my wife and daughter.

What are some early examples of success?

On the academic side, one of our early students, a 10-year-old boy, saw his report card go from a C- level to an A level in a matter of months and he earned a spot on his school’s honour roll.  His parents were, of course, thrilled.  He was not a typical case and we never make promises when it comes to academic progress, but it is definitely an early example of success.

On the business side, the earliest example of success was when we reached the break-even point within our first year of operations and I was able to resign from my position at UBC, where I was still working part-time.

Are there any charities or organizations you’re involved in?

We hope to eventually develop a scholarship program in which we sponsor students who have a demonstrated need for our support and come from low-income families.  Symbols also sponsors an underprivileged child in a developing country.

Symbols Multisensory Learning Centers Inc.


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