Natalie Scheidt has stepped into business ownership with The Power Within Project LLC, which supports neurodiverse students and their families. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with her about working with local resources to shape her vision and get her business up and running.

NAN PRICE: Have you always known you wanted to have your own business?

NATALIE SCHEIDT: I haven’t always known that I wanted to have a business. I’ve been a special education teacher and leader for 15 years. Over the last few years, I’ve been considering how to continue using the skills I’ve built up over the course of my career outside of the school system to continue to support students with disabilities and their families.

NAN: What compelled you to decide to start a business? And how did you come up with the business concept?

NATALIE: During the time I’ve been working in special education, I’ve found certain patterns emerging in my work with teenagers with disabilities. One of them being that I can see all the fantastic skills and wonderful qualities my students possess, but they don’t see that within themselves.

I see students struggling with self-esteem and overwhelming anxiety when they think about what their future will look like after high school. I saw that exacerbated when students returned to school in-person after the pandemic lockdown.

When I returned to school, I was teaching students in 10th and 11th grade, which is a time when they’re usually excited about planning the next phase of their lives. Many of my students were paralyzed with anxiety. Many didn’t even want to talk about what they would be doing after high school.

So, I worked on developing a curriculum to help them recognize their strengths and engage in person-centered planning to think about what relationships they have, what areas they want to build skill in, and where they feel happiest. We focused on how they could feel more confident having those kinds of conversations and how to begin to explore next steps.

It doesn’t mean it has to be the career or the college they’ll go to, but we work on understanding what it might look like. For example, if a student wants to be a vet tech, what steps can they take to start to ease some of that anxiety?

I feel really passionate about doing that work. My goal is to build a program that’s specifically focused on supporting students with building self-advocacy and self-determination and helping them shift their perspective to understanding themselves within the spectrum of neurodiversity.

We all have strengths. We all have areas of growth. We don’t always have the answers about exactly what we’re going to be doing. Even as adults, we change, we shift course, and that’s okay. That’s part of life. I want to support students with that aspect of their development because I see it as something that isn’t a major focus of school curriculums right now.

NAN: Have you utilized any local business resources to help you launch the business?

NATALIE: Interestingly, I had applied for the reSET Food Incubator program in February because I was interested in starting a food-based business. When I applied, I was referred to Jeannette Punsoni Dardenne, who’s an advisor at the University of Hartford Entrepreneurial Center and Women’s Business Center.

Jeannette and I were originally working on something in the food industry, but the more we talked, the more we thought about how I could leverage the skillset I have as a special education teacher to develop a business, so we shifted course.

It’s been a process in thinking through what my business would look like. This is a fairly new adventure I’m embarking on and it’s very different from being in the classroom.

NAN: What makes your business concept unique?

NATALIE: I’m designing a business that’s doing something that’s very different. It’s not an academic tutoring business. I’m not working on coaching in executive functioning like other one-on-one support businesses.

I’m a special education service provider, but I’m not providing related services like speech or occupational therapy for schools. It’s a completely different concept that I’m trying to pioneer.

NAN: As you’re building this business, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve experienced?

NATALIE: I have the skillset to do the work in terms of the content. I feel confident about working one-on-one with students, going into schools to teach a course, or coaching special education teachers, because that’s the work I’ve always done.

It’s all the other pieces. It can be overwhelming designing each aspect of the business from all the nuts and bolts involved with setting everything up. I’ve had to learn how to do all that from designing the website to learning about business insurance. It takes time to build all of that and all those steps can feel overwhelming.

NAN: What advice do you have for anyone else who’s thinking about starting a business, whether in this industry or otherwise?

NATALIE: If you have an idea and you have the passion behind it, you can figure the rest out. That’s what I’ve found. I’m really passionate about the why, the rationale behind my work. So, that drives me to learn how to do the other aspects of it.

Looking back, I can check off a lot of different things I’ve learned how to do, and now I can just do them moving forward. So, take it one step at a time, make checklists of the things you need to learn and do, and master them little by little and you’ll get there.

Learn more about The Power Within Project LLC