Episode 7- Co-Founder of 2 Schools and over 100 student led businesses!

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In this episode Andrew Molchany shares his experiences in education, technology, school co-founder, venture accelerator and leader of student entrepreneurship programs! Andrew is a former teacher and school leader who has spent the last ten years working in education technology as a program director, ed-tech cofounder and venture accelerator leader.  Originally from Virginia, Andrew is a proud graduate of James Madison University, for his undergraduate degree in Spanish, and American University, for his master’s degree in education.  He is also a proud Teach For America DC Region alum.  Andrew has co-founded two public schools, helped launch over 100 student-led businesses, grew career-focused online learning across 25 states and has led venture accelerator programming for nearly 1,000 startup founders from 65 countries around the world.  Andrew is actively engaged in the startup and ed-tech communities and now resides outside of Charleston, South Carolina where he enjoys cooking, sailing and reading children’s books with his wife and two sons. You can reach Andrew via Linkedin.

Transcript

Erin:
Welcome to Reimagining Schools, a podcast from the Edupreneur Academy. Today I’m talking with Andrew Molchany, whose experience as a Teach For America alum, a public school teacher, an educator, and later helped found two public schools, and then 100 student-led businesses.
Erin:
We’re chatting a little bit today about his experiences and the challenges he’s faced and the ways he’s been able to overcome those challenges.
Erin:
Hi Andrew, thanks for joining us on the podcast today. How are you doing?
Andrew Molchany:
I’m well, Erin. Thanks for having me.
Erin:
Yeah, so Andrew and I have known each other, it’s probably been five or six years now at least. We met while at K12. So, kind of doing some national professional development things. We met a long time ago and quickly realized that Andrew is definitely kind of cut from the same cloth.
Erin:
We definitely have a lot of mutual interests. And so I thought it would be fun to get to know a little bit about you on our podcast and hear about your adventures in education. So, I’d love for you to just start with that and tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into education in the first place, and what you’ve been up to.
Andrew Molchany:
For sure. I appreciate the invite and it’s always great to be connected with you. My sort of entry point into education came, I think like many people who become teachers in that it came sort of unexpectedly. It really starts, my roots in education and being an educator and sort of what brought me to that, start in childhood.
Andrew Molchany:
Actually, I went to a bilingual immersion program with Spanish and English growing up. And it was part of the public school system where I grew up in nor Northern Virginia, in Fairfax. And I just had really transformative, great learning experiences that were rooted in learning Spanish and learning cultural competencies and learning to connect with other people and sort of bringing empathy into sort of this front and center dynamic of being a student, of being a learner and being someone who was open to those things.
Andrew Molchany:
And I have reflected many times about my own public school experience. And I think that is probably the most important thing that I learned was how to be empathetic and how to be thoughtful about the experience that other people were having, whether that was a classmate or somebody on the other side of the world.
Andrew Molchany:
So fast forward to college, I was a Spanish major and communication minor and Teach For America showed up at JMU, at James Madison University, where I went to school. I didn’t know anything about TFA at the time. It was like, “Hey, come be a teacher for two years, you know in underserved schools and make a positive difference.” And that sounded great to me.
Andrew Molchany:
So, I was going to do that and then go to law school and sort of figure it out from there. And what I didn’t really realize at the time when I got into teaching and when sort of through Teach For America was that the purpose of TFA sort of functionally was to bring high performing, mostly recent college grads into classrooms and to help train them to become teachers.
Andrew Molchany:
I got a master’s degree in education while I was doing that in my first two years. But really what TFA is designed to do is to create a network of people that are focused on educational equity and are focused on being champions for that for life.
Andrew Molchany:
Not just the time you spend in the classroom, but really creating experiences, creating exposures for educators to make a difference, yes, in a short term, but to also become people who are committed to that in the long term.
Andrew Molchany:
And that really, really happened for me. So I ended up teaching for seven years, mostly in high schools and in middle schools. And I got exposed to entrepreneurship as an educator in a really interesting way. I was teaching at a school in Washington, D.C. called Eastern Senior High School.
Andrew Molchany:
And I have to shout out the principal at the time. Her name is Rachel Skerritt. She was a role model for me, she still is. And she connected me with a program called BUILD, and BUILD is an entrepreneurship education organization that uses entrepreneurship as a means of helping students stay engaged in school, creating meaning for them by teaching them how to launch businesses and then also how to be the CEO of their life.
Andrew Molchany:
And so ironically as a 20, I was like 24, at the time. I was very fresh, still as an educator. I found a lot of parallels in the curriculum that I was learning to teach to students about how to ideate and how to be creative and how to do self-reflection and thinking about what are the things you’re passionate about that you might want to start a business around.
Andrew Molchany:
I found myself using that curriculum sort of personally as an educator and being like, “What am I passionate about? What are the things that I’m doing that are meaningful? How am I creating meaning, how am I creating opportunities for myself, for colleagues, et cetera.”
Andrew Molchany:
And so I ended up helping launch over 100 led student businesses over the course of four years, both as a teacher in this program, and then as a program manager operating this program at multiple schools. And so it was really just like a transformative moment for me of education and entrepreneurship not only can coexist, but they sort of have to coexist. They have to work hand-in-hand.
Andrew Molchany:
And it’s especially powerful when you put the tools of entrepreneurship in the hands of young people who don’t have all of the same sort of understandings of barriers and limitations that even young adults, like I was at the time experience, right?
Andrew Molchany:
And I just didn’t realize at the time how powerful that was going to be. So, fast forward to … That was from 2011 to 2015. Fast forward to 2017, I co-founded an Ed Tech company with an educator friend of mine named Allison Wood. And who’s also just a close personal friend of mine.
Andrew Molchany:
And the company was called edVario. edVario was a curated platform for educators to find and share effective strategies for classroom leadership and instruction. And we sort of found ourselves as teachers and then as school leaders being frustrated that there weren’t places for … There wasn’t one place for an educator to go and say, “I want to know how other educators solved this problem in their classroom,” right?
Andrew Molchany:
Anything from how do you effectively teach fractions to 5th graders? Or how do you engage multilingual families beyond back to school night? Right? These are really common situations that educators face. And we couldn’t find a place where educators themselves could say, “This is what I did. This is how I solved that problem.”
Andrew Molchany:
There’s research about those things, but that can be very dense and not efficient to use. There are a lot of products that exist from textbook companies and other Ed Tech companies, some of which are very effective and some of which aren’t.
Andrew Molchany:
So, we created edVario with this notion of like educators need to be the best and sort of most direct resource for one another to share that information. And so it was a really, really powerful experience doing that and helping lead edVario for about three years, we learned a lot of things.
Andrew Molchany:
And we learned that teachers wanted to be creative and wanted to be innovative, but needed a lot of support to do that because regardless of whether or not teachers were in an urban setting or in a rural setting or somewhere in between, they tended to lack resources.
Andrew Molchany:
They tended to lack time. They tended to lack support structures. And so they were going it alone a lot. And we also learned that school districts and charter management organizations were in many ways kind of struggling to stay committed to the kinds of processes and the kinds of pedagogical approaches that they sort of said they believed in not because they were disingenuous by design, but because a lot of factors were influencing what’s going to drive our curriculum or what’s going to drive our teacher evaluation, or what’s going to drive our sort of opportunities we create for students for political reasons, for social reasons, those areas of focus tended to change really quickly, faster than teachers could adapt to them. And certainly faster than students could adapt to them.
Andrew Molchany:
So, that was a big part of what we learned doing that. Simultaneously, I was at K12 for all that time and working as a Regional Academic Director and then as this Senior Program Manager and Career Learning Solutions, and really I think the best things for me in those experiences was that it got me out of Washington, D.C. It got me out of just the D.C area, which is where I had been working as an educator in Ed Tech.
Andrew Molchany:
And I literally was able to travel the United States. I was in Maine and I was in Arizona and Pennsylvania and Indiana and Kansas and Oklahoma and Texas and Colorado. And all of these places where I literally had never been before. And certainly hadn’t worked with educators.
Andrew Molchany:
And so it just totally opened my mind to what are people, what are educators, what are students, what are stakeholders experiencing all around the country?
Andrew Molchany:
And that guided so much of the work that I ended up doing at K12, realizing that in some ways there was a lot of consistency around the struggles and successes that were being experienced by those stakeholders, but also very unique and very distinct dynamics that were local or regional, or sort of state-based just based on policy and based on laws and based on funding.
Andrew Molchany:
So, it was a really, really positive experience for me being there. And then sort of beyond the time that I was at K12, well the very last year that I was there, of course COVID happened. And I was working on a team that was primarily focused on workforce development and sort of career learning opportunities.
Andrew Molchany:
And so much of what I worked on and was focused on, ultimately came back to entrepreneurship. It came back to startup organizations that were focused on trying to provide better opportunities for young people, especially.
Andrew Molchany:
And so that got me sort of reengaged and re-motivated to want to work with entrepreneurs and want to do that in a way that was both focused on education and focused on sort of like the Ed Tech space in general, but also kind of more broadly than that, focused on a wider range of industries and verticals and thinking about how organizations get funding and how they pursue partnerships.
Andrew Molchany:
And that brought me to Newchip where I’ve been able to help run this global venture accelerator, literally working with hundreds and hundreds. Probably over the last year, close to 800 startups have gone through our program from 65 different countries around the world.
Andrew Molchany:
And so certainly not just Ed Tech companies, but companies in many different spaces and having been a part of the development and sort of growth of the accelerator programming itself, but also from a kind of global program management perspective, as an educator, I have found that that has been a huge asset for me because I approach working with entrepreneurs very similarly to how I approach working with educators.
Andrew Molchany:
There’s a lot of similarities between those two types of people. They’re very capable. They’re very committed, they’re very passionate, they’re problem solvers. They’re people who are committed to changing the world and making a difference directly. And that’s a powerful thing.
Andrew Molchany:
And so being able harness some of that and turn that creativity into really scalable solutions is something that I love doing and have been doing for quite a while now.
Erin:
Yeah, that’s fantastic, Andrew. There was a lot there, but I was so excited to hear about the Teach For America piece. I didn’t know that, that, that was a part of your background and so that’s interesting because I felt like that was a really great target market for what I’m looking for in terms of supporting entrepreneurs and people that are interested in education, just because that really crosses us too over.
Erin:
And so I’ve really been focused on that. And I’ve met with several other Teach For America alumni. I’m actually speaking at Teach For America this weekend.
Andrew Molchany:
That’s awesome.
Erin:
So, their alumni group here in Oklahoma city. So yeah, that’s so fun that you have that connection. And I think that kind of proves that to be true, that I’m starting to really run into a lot of people that are passionate about education and entrepreneurship and how that’s crossed over in their lives and what they’re doing.
Erin:
And I didn’t realize you were involved in the entrepreneur piece so early before, back before you were really involved with K12 too. So that’s interesting.
Erin:
And I was just thinking about for those that are kind of getting started in the entrepreneurship and education field, that kind of what advice would you have for them or what challenges, especially since I know that you’ve been pretty involved in the funding side of things, because that’s typically one of the big challenge that I hear from people is, especially if they’re wanting an in-person location, what are some of their avenues, or what advice would you give for an early entrepreneur that’s thinking about getting started?
Andrew Molchany:
Yeah, absolutely. There are lots of factors. There are sort of so many factors that can be a barrier or can be a potential blocker. I think my advice is to set those aside and focus on fundamentally why you’re interested in doing something entrepreneurial, right?
Andrew Molchany:
What is your why? We talk about that as educators, what’s your why in the classroom, what’s your why for working with students? I think going through that same sort of reflective process as you sort of head down the path of entrepreneurship is why are you doing this.
Andrew Molchany:
Being very clear about that and establishing the kind of impact you would like to have, the kind of change that you would like to create. And also, again, from personal experience, being open to that evolving. For me, my why has always sort of been centered around improving educational outcomes for students.
Andrew Molchany:
Like literally making better schools, making the conditions in schools for learning and the environment for learning access, to learning and different learning tools and modalities, et cetera, to make that more effective for young people.
Andrew Molchany:
But I think for me, one of the major evolutions that I’ve experienced is I sort of initially thought of students as just like K-12 students. That was, even as a teacher, as an early educator, that’s sort of where my definition of student sort of stopped.
Andrew Molchany:
And I realized that there are so many ways that K-12 programs or programs at least that young people have exposure to while they’re in middle school or high school can actually extend far beyond the time that they are themselves in high school.
Andrew Molchany:
And a lot of the programming that exists now that I think is really innovative and effective, a lot of which was happening at K12 and Stride and still is now helps young people sort of bridge the gap between I’m in high school and now I’m in college or some sort of career preparatory program, and now I’m working, but I still am a student, I’m still learning.
Andrew Molchany:
So, the definition for me of student has evolved a lot. Back to your question, I think once you establish your why, and you feel like those are good enough reasons to pursue something entrepreneurial, it then just becomes about making connections with people and being very open to introductions and conversations and putting yourself out there.
Andrew Molchany:
When I launched edVario, literally it was like conversations at coffee shops, random email introductions, people that were six degrees of separation for me. It’s sounds cliche to say, but I literally just would have a conversation with anybody that would listen to me about my idea and what I wanted to do.
Andrew Molchany:
And more often than not people were interested in listening, and would either get involved or would connect me with someone else who would get involved and that worked and not being afraid of that feeling silly or feeling sort of new or different, I was fortunate that I sort of got over that pretty quickly and was like, “Yeah, this is different. And I’m not sure what I’m doing, but I’m going to do it and figure out how to take the next step.”
Erin:
Yeah, that’s great. And I completely agree that it is just about making those networks and connections and being willing to talk to people. And especially in the beginning when you don’t know a lot, find others that have been farther down that road than you.
Erin:
I think that’s really the purpose of kind of this podcast is to provide information for others who’ve been a little farther down the pathway and thinking about those things. So, I appreciate you sharing kind your thoughts on that.
Andrew Molchany:
Yeah.
Erin:
As you’re thinking about education, we both know, we all know there’s no lack of problems and struggles and challenges that we’re facing with K-12 education and higher ed as well.
Erin:
But what are your thoughts on kind of big issues or main topics that you are interested in focusing on, maybe some of the solutions for this?
Andrew Molchany:
Yeah, that’s a great question. One of the things, so as a parent now with two young kids, a four and a half year old, who is in preschool and getting ready for kindergarten next year. And we have a one year old, something that I come back to a lot, both personally and professionally is how trust is established in schools and in sort of education environments more broadly, right?
Andrew Molchany:
Whether it’s a daycare, or a preschool, or a traditional public school, or a charter school, or a school related program, I think a factor that ultimately impacts everyone’s engagement, teachers’ engagement, students’ engagement, families engagement, sort of other supportive partner organizations.
Andrew Molchany:
It comes down to trust and where there are opportunities to build trust and to communicate and to learn more about each other, and what people’s priorities are, or what they want out of an experience or out of time spent in a school or in an academic setting.
Andrew Molchany:
The more that that can be cultivated, I think the further programs can go and the more successful programs can be. If the trust factor is taken for granted, and quite frankly I think from my own childhood, I’m not so sure that there were tons of efforts that were made specifically to build trust explicitly, but implicitly parents were really involved in schools.
Andrew Molchany:
PTAs and PTOs were strong. And there were opportunities for teachers and families to get to know one another and to build trust. And ironically, I think through Facebook and through other tools that can be very positive and very powerful in terms of digitally connecting people, I think a lot of the person-to-person connectivity of what some people think of as traditional school setting, is actually a lot weaker now than it was even 20 or 30 years ago.
Andrew Molchany:
And so that I think is really, really important, both for entrepreneurs, but also for educators to think about what are we doing to build trust with our community, and not to just do that sometimes, but to have that incorporated into everything that’s being done.
Erin:
Yeah, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It definitely is. Starts with, I think our culture, right, and our way of communicating with that culture to see positive outcomes for sure. And that’s definitely a challenge. It’s interesting too.
Erin:
I’m looking at, I’m sure you’ve probably seen this too, a lot at Finland and there’s a kind of upcoming event in Finland that’s possible to kind of see how they’re running schools. And it’s always interesting to see how other countries do that. But it definitely, for them comes back down to a cultural.
Erin:
It’s everybody is involved. It’s a different mindset for parents. They don’t start school until seven, so that puts a lot of emphasis on what happens at home between zero and seven, and that’s a lot about families and communities and how all that’s connected together. So, that’s really interesting that you brought that up.
Andrew Molchany:
Yeah.
Erin:
Thinking back on your sort of entrepreneur endeavors and your base of knowledge on that, is there anything that you reflect on that you wish you would have done differently or that you wish you had more resources on in the beginning of that process as you were getting started?
Andrew Molchany:
Yeah, it’s a great question. One of the things that I both experienced and also sort of think back on and sort of wish I had had the opportunity to experience somewhat differently was that I felt like, and granted this was going on 10 years ago at this point, I felt like if I was going to be an educator and an entrepreneur that I sort of had to do one or the other, or maybe I had to leave the classroom, or I had to leave being an educator in order to fully pursue that.
Andrew Molchany:
And I have sort of come to understand, and see that that’s not necessarily the case. There are a lot of educators who even just within their own classrooms are doing things entreprenuerially. They are thinking like entrepreneurs in the sense of they’re problem solving, they’re networking, they’re leveraging resources in very creative ways to create outcomes that they otherwise couldn’t.
Andrew Molchany:
And so I think programs and structures, whether it’s through micro loans for teachers or whether it’s through professional development or whether it’s through leadership development opportunities, any of those things, or all of those things that can be done to help educators think and operate more entrepreneurially and also stay in the classroom and stay working with students directly.
Erin:
Yeah.
Andrew Molchany:
I think is really, really powerful. And it’s hard, right? Not everybody wants to wear 10 hats at one time. Teachers already do, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re a first or second or a third year teacher, or if you’re in your 20th or 25th or in the classroom, you’re wearing many hats every day.
Andrew Molchany:
That is very true and very similar to the experience that entrepreneurs have. But I think there are more ways now to balance both of those things and to do more entrepreneurial work, whether it’s literally starting a business as an educator or launching a new program or leading some other new experience within a school setting that by every measure and definition is an entrepreneurial thing.
Andrew Molchany:
That doesn’t require all teachers to stop teaching or to stop working directly with students to do that. And I think staying connected that way is really, really important to keep a pulse on what students are experiencing and what their needs are and how to continue to stay relevant in that way.
Erin:
Yeah, that’s a great perspective. And I think sometimes that, that happens. Well that happens a lot, right? Is that we lose really great innovators and education and teachers from the classroom because they feel like they need to do that in order to have a different experience.
Andrew Molchany:
Yeah.
Erin:
And so one of the things I’m really passionate about changing is sort of that mindset for our undergraduate students working on teacher preparation programs. I’m starting to see some of these pop up around the country, but they’re kind of degree pathways in education that are focused more on entrepreneurship and sort of thinking outside of the box.
Erin:
And so I’m starting to see some of those master’s programs, doctorate programs pop up around the country that are focused on educational entrepreneurship. And I think that’s a great place for us to focus in the future is that we’re not just preparing teachers for one narrow pathway, right? We’re not saying you have to just go teach in a classroom and that your only pathway is to be assistant principal, principal, and go that traditional path.
Erin:
That there are other ways that we can help your career kind of blossom into a different direction and really still stay focused on seeing change with students specifically. So yeah, I’m glad you brought that up.
Andrew Molchany:
Yeah, I totally agree with that. The idea that, from what I have experienced and observed working with many entrepreneurs is that part of the secret sauce, right, part of what effective entrepreneurs ultimately do is they’re good decision makers.
Andrew Molchany:
And that doesn’t mean that they make decisions all the time that are correct, but it’s that they’re willing to make decisions fairly quickly based on good information and are able to build upon the decisions that are effective and the decisions that are not effective that end up being failures or end up being a mistake.
Andrew Molchany:
They forget that in terms of the failure part, but build from what they learned. Teachers have to do that too, right? That is exactly what teachers do.
Erin:
Yeah.
Andrew Molchany:
And so rather than leaving the profession, I think being in a place to build partnerships, being in a place to be an advocate for students or an advocate for a school system or an instructional approach, and to do that in an entrepreneurial way, the core sort of skillset that those teacher preparation programs have to focus on is decision making and critical thinking and being able to synthesize information sometimes a lot of it, and a lot of complex information really quickly that makes you a better teacher when you can do those things, because you don’t feel like you’re stuck doing the same thing the same way.
Andrew Molchany:
Even when your student body changes, right? Your classroom is different every year and it changes throughout the year. And so being open to those kinds of perspectives and operating, and sort of thinking in that way is totally in alignment with … it’s aligned with what great entrepreneurs do too.
Erin:
Yeah.
Andrew Molchany:
So yeah, I totally agree with that for sure.
Erin:
Yeah, interesting. I think, yeah, you hit on the point too, that entrepreneurs need to really be able to focus on taking calculated risks, right? It is, it’s all about just being able to take a lot of data and no teachers know how to do that, right? Take a lot of data and make a decision about what makes the most sense and being willing to just sometimes go for it.
Andrew Molchany:
Yeah.
Erin:
That’s great advice. Yeah. So what’s in the future for Andrew? What are you passionate about for the future?
Andrew Molchany:
Yeah, it’s a great question. A few things. Back to what I said about Teach For America, I have thought about this, and acted upon this a lot more recently because I have young kids and because they’re in school and getting ready to enter kindergarten.
Andrew Molchany:
I think for me staying really involved as an advocate and as a partner and as a parent who wants to see all student succeed is really important for me, not just my own kids, but their peers and people in our community and beyond.
Andrew Molchany:
So, that’s important for me. I plan to stay really involved and probably increase my involvement in that way as my kids are going to school.
Andrew Molchany:
Secondly, I have experienced both at K12 and at Newchip and with edVario, the power of scale, the power of being able to replicate programs successfully is another thing that entrepreneurs and educators alike are always trying to achieve, right?
Andrew Molchany:
When you achieve results with one student or with one classroom, that’s amazing and that’s worth it in it of itself. But being able to grow that and to replicate that and to scale that is really, really hard and it’s really important.
Andrew Molchany:
And so work that makes that possible, I think is really exciting for me because there’s not a one size fits all solution in education. The same is true in business, but finding ways to scale and to grow things that work is fun and it’s exciting.
Erin:
Yeah.
Andrew Molchany:
And it also sort of makes the day-to-day hard work of being an educator or being an entrepreneur, I think worthwhile. So, I plan to stay focused on that and working with organizations that are scaling and that are figuring out how to do that.
Andrew Molchany:
And then the third thing for me, and again, I’ve just … This is so sort of how my professional and personal life have gone. And I plan for this to continue, is I’ve often been involved in the development of new programs and the development of programs that are trying to grow out of something that has existed before and maybe experience limitations or experienced barriers and trying to find solutions and processes and people that can help make them improve and grow.
Andrew Molchany:
And so that’s also really exciting for me, is launching something new, figuring out how to operate it, and sustain it. But also being enough of a risk taker to find out what’s going to work or what’s not going to work.
Erin:
Right.
Andrew Molchany:
And so those are things that I think served me well early on in my career as an educator and continue to today.
Erin:
Fantastic. Well for our listeners that are interested in networking with you, or maybe would just like to connect, what would be the best way for them to get a hold of you? I know you’re on LinkedIn.
Andrew Molchany:
Yeah, yeah. LinkedIn for sure.
Erin:
Is that the best way?
Andrew Molchany:
Andrew Molchany, yeah, on LinkedIn and just reach out to me and, connect with me. And I schedule calls all the time with folks that are either entrepreneurs now or who are considering a career change or who are wanting coaching or some perspective on decisions that they’re making or situation that they’re in.
Andrew Molchany:
And I love doing that both through connections of friends and colleagues, and also kind of randomly with people. So, I’d be happy to.
Erin:
Great. Well, thank you so much for your time, Andrew. I appreciate it. It was great to hear your story and perspective, and I appreciate you being on the podcast.
Andrew Molchany:
Thanks, Erin. This was awesome. We’ll talk again soon.

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