Starting a business in a down economy is probably not at the top of any budding entrepreneur’s to-do list.
But that’s just what three young East Valley men did in 2009 when the desire to help kids be creative, the love of a little plastic brick, and one faltering job path, crashed into each other.
Bonanza Educational’s mind power rests with its founders and partners: Chris Piccirillo, 29; Brian Scott, 25, and Jeremy Scott, 26.
Most businesses start in the home and move into a coffee shop, before branching out from there, Brian told the Tribune in an interview.
Bonanza Educational started much the same way, only it moved from the men’s homes to Del Taco.
“They have super-fast Wi-Fi,” the men report.
In 2011, the guys moved the company into Chandler’s Gangplank, where start-up companies are given space to work (i.e. a desk and phone) and access to typical office amenities (copy machine, podcast studio) in exchange for supporting and assisting other start-up companies.
The Scott brothers were already running an online LEGO retailer when they were put in contact with Piccirillo in 2009.
Piccirillo had graduated earlier that year with a bachelor’s degree and a plan to become a diesel mechanic. But dealerships weren’t hiring. Piccirillo landed a job with the Gilbert Unified School District doing maintenance and security.
During all this, he held onto his love for LEGOS and a natural ability to build anything (he’s also studied film making). He said the district staff approached him about developing a class around building with the famous toy.
With that, Bonanza Educational was born. The first classes were offered in Gilbert schools through the community education department. From the beginning, the company planned to take small steps for “slow, controlled, accurate growth,” Brian Scott said.
Today, the three partners completely oversee the company while their 18 employees teach children, from kindergarten through high school. Before the end of the calendar year, they’ll hold classes in 200 schools across the Valley, as well as through Chandler’s Parks and Recreation department, touching the lives of thousands of students.
And it’s not just LEGO classes, anymore. They’ve branched out, adding a film making class (Reel Stars), a dance class (Urban Movement), cooking (Be the Cook) and sports (Be Active) to the list of offerings.
The idea, they said, is to bring creativity back into children’s worlds, and through that, to teach communication, team building and collaboration.
“Kids aren’t always taught how to express themselves creatively,” Piccirillo said. “Our programs are not just fly-by-night classes. It’s programming clients know and value.”
Quality comes first when the team develops a class, hires a teacher and puts a program before students to not only give them an outlet, but also “enforce academics,” Brian Scott said.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t succeed as a business owner in a tough economy,” Brian said. “It helps the superstars shine, though. Quality, inventiveness -- that’s what our focus has always been. That’s why starting in a bad economy never phased us.”
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