Rural beginnings: the start of my story

As we celebrated Women’s Entrepreneurship Day this week, I thought it would be fun to share the beginnings of my entrepreneurial journey with you and give perspective to how our Vision and Core Values were established. I won’t recount charging my parents for doing their laundry or running a nail salon under the stairwell in my childhood home, but it does go back to rural Missouri.

My mother was a special education teacher, giving me a natural affinity for the work of being a speech-language pathologist in schools. Two years after grad school, I found myself in a job I absolutely adored, exploring the beautiful Missouri countryside on my daily 3-4 hour commute between schools. I was the lone itinerant SLP working in early childhood across four counties.

For those unfamiliar with small town America, the sense of community is unparalleled but access to high quality educational services can be overwhelmingly one of the biggest challenges. I would try to visit the schools once per week but oftentimes this was a stretch and I would be coaching teachers and families on how to implement therapy activities until I could get back on-site. 

It was then that I got a message on Facebook that completely focused my professional contribution to this beloved field. I was given the opportunity to work with the sweetest preschool-age girl and her family living in Thailand, all online. With limited local speech therapy resources as you can imagine, they were eager to meet, and I had no idea what I was doing. 

I will never forget that early morning in 2014, logging into the video conferencing platform at 5:30am nervous as any SLP delivering their first online session. Instinct and training kicked in. I knew exactly what to do, how to help, and the reality of being thousands of miles apart completely subsided. From that session, I wasn’t sure how it would unfold but knew I had to pursue this unconventional (at the time) delivery and understood the impact it could have for the students I was serving in schools. 

Five years spent working to grow a startup in this space yielded the experience and beliefs for what are now our Core Values. What’s our #1? Students first.

TeleTeachers was founded this year. We exist to find the best way to implement high quality online services in schools. From rural Missouri to Thailand, and everywhere in between, every child deserves equitable access to speech therapy. Also important, SLPs should work in an environment they completely love. For me, that space was school-based telepractice. 

This entrepreneurial journey has provided unimaginable personal and professional growth. One of my favorite reads is The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz, in which he recounts the following dialogue: 

“Marc: “Do you know the best thing about startups?” Ben: “What?” Marc: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.”

It’s so true. And I have immense respect for founders and anyone working to build something they believe needs to exist in the world. 

If you’re interested in hearing more about the creation of TeleTeachers and the brand we are obsessed with building to put students first, check out this episode from Nonfiction Brand Podcast (Episode 56). 

Posted by

Emily Smith, Founder & CEO

Emily Smith is the Founder and CEO of TeleTeachers, a Chicago-based telehealth services company working with schools to ensure every student has the opportunity to communicate, learn, and thrive- no matter where they live.