Case Study: The Nature Academy
Encouraging environmental sustainability through teachers and students
The Nature Academy will be a watershed moment for the organization and for environmental education. It will also represent a step towards financial resilience for Ecospark…
- 2013 Annual Report, EcoSpark
How can students become more engaged with nature? How can teachers acquire environmentally focused professional development? How can society address its “nature deficit disorder” and overcome “the collective lack of connection between nature and youth”? EcoSpark is launching its first social enterprise -- The Nature Academy -- in response to these questions.
The Nature Academy is a professional development program that gives teachers the skills, support, and knowledge that they need in order to integrate environmental education into regular curricula. By delivering “environmental education to educators”, this new social enterprise will allow EcoSpark to further its mission to instill “positive environmental change” in our communities. It will also provide a revenue stream to support EcoSpark’s other programs, and reduce its dependence on private and government grants.
In 2013, The Nature Academy submitted an expression of interest to Innoweave, and partnered with coach Norm Tasevski (Venture Deli) to access the business expertise required in order to ensure the successful launch of this exciting enterprise.
The Nature Academy is designed to offer small professional development classes to high school science and geography teachers in the Greater Toronto Area. Each course will provide teachers with the resources they need to deliver curriculum-relevant content to help students increase their eco-literacy. The Nature Academy’s courses are designed for a wide spectrum of educators; from pre-service teachers who have yet to begin their careers to veterans with decades of experience. Alongside its role as an educator for high school teachers, The Nature Academy will also act as a networking facilitator for educators interested in environmental education.
Before it could successfully launch, The Nature Academy needed to finalize course content, build a web platform, and answer specific business-related questions, including:
- How specifically should the courses be designed and delivered (e.g. what specific features do customers want)?
- What will it cost (e.g. equipment and materials requirements) and how should it be priced?
What They Found
EcoSpark saw the opportunity to develop in-house business expertise through coaching support that would help them work through the above-noted questions related to business modelling, pricing structures, unaccounted cost drivers, and branding.
By working with Norm Tasevski, The Nature Academy was able to design, test, and analyze two course pilots. These pilots were conducted in the Fall of 2013 and provided an opportunity for The Nature Academy to refine their emerging business plan with the help and guidance of a seasoned social enterprise coach.
The Nature Academy determined the ideal format for its initial courses, which will be offered in one-day, two-day, or three-day options beginning in Toronto. A number of courses will eventually be offered, and availability will be expanded to the entire Greater Toronto Area within five years. Currently, courses include:
- Drink Up: Urban Water Quality and Me
- Breathe Deep: Lichen and Me
Each course is designed for teachers of Grade 9 Science, Grade 11 Biology, and Grade 11 Environmental Science. The Nature Academy will also provide web-based community support to participating teachers, as well as in-office support (e.g. Skype, email communication) in its efforts to act as a network facilitator for teachers interested in environmental education.
Unique Value Proposition
As noted above, The Nature Academy focused on a specific group of teachers, whose curriculum had or would be affected by changes to provincial curriculum. They conducted in-depth analysis of what the market currently offered, and identified what aspects would make their programs stand out, identifying just two other organizations with similar expertise and offerings. By offering regular courses and day-to-day support, The Nature Academy provides a unique professional development option which also helps redress the endemic disconnect between nature and youth in the Greater Toronto Area.
Costs and Pricing
The Nature Academy also determined how it will incur costs, which arise primarily through course development, course delivery, and human resources:
- Course Development: The Nature Academy plans to build between four and six courses per year until 2016 in order to capture a wider range of subjects and grade levels.
- Course Delivery: Various costs, such as venue rental, honourariums for speakers, and food and beverages for participants is projected to rise as the number of courses increases. Between 2014 and 2018, these costs are projected to increase from 13% to 66%.
- Overhead: As the number of course offerings increases, economies of scale will see these costs fall from approximately 25% to less than 10% by 2018.
- Human Resources: Over time, the need for less managerial involvement will see these costs fall from more than half of all costs (53%) to approximately 25%.
To cover these costs, The Nature Academy has determined the price for its one-day, two-day, and three-day courses at $250, $500, and $750 respectively. To ensure revenue growth, The Nature Academy will raise prices by 3% per year.
In order to incentivize word-of-mouth marketing, 10% discounts will be also be offered to select participants. Teachers from the same schools as previous participants, teachers who register following recommendation by alumni of The Nature Academy, and all previous course participants will be eligible for such discounts.
The information gained through the pilot process allowed The Nature Academy to move forward with other priorities before launching, including securing additional grants to cover expenses until profitability can be realized. EcoSpark’s strong reputation as a provider quality environmental education bodes well for the program’s funding acquisition in its initial operating year.
Moving forward, the Nature Academy will be working to solidify its web presence, partnership development, and customer retention strategies. Securing further corporate sponsorships, and expanding into private schools are other areas that The Nature Academy is keen to address as it moves forward with its business plan.
The Nature Academy has already been endorsed by Ontario EcoSchools and the Toronto District School Board. Marketing has relied primarily on EcoSpark’s established networks, and by word-of-mouth referrals amongst teachers, who are incentivized to sign on their colleagues through pricing discounts.
With its business modelling complete, EcoSpark was successful in securing start-up funds to launch The Nature Academy in Fall 2014. In its initial year, The Nature Academy anticipates uptake by approximately 250 teachers; a number which is projected to rise to more than 2,000 per year by 2018. By that year, The Nature Academy is expected to generate revenues that will help support its mandate and put the organization on a stronger financial footing.
The Nature Academy is an exciting social enterprise that promises to encourage environmental sustainability, provide professional development to teachers, and bring students closer to nature. It will also provide EcoSpark with a dependable revenue stream and reduce its reliance on grants.
The Nature Academy demonstrates how the coaching expertise offered through Innoweave’s modules can help your organization build its capacity, achieve its goals and effect lasting change.