Profiles in intraprenuership: Alumna builds business with her students

By

Meghan Krein

Sometimes you meet someone and just know what they were meant to do in this life, even if they’re not quite so sure at first. Debbie Kovesdy is one of those people.

She began her career in real estate. While her children were young the field offered some much-needed flexibility. But as those children turned into teenagers and entered high school, Debbie craved something more meaningful. She reflected and thought about the phrase so many people chirped in her ear over the years: “You should be a teacher.”

Debbie listened. Twenty-one years ago and in her 40s, Debbie left the only career she’d known and dove headfirst into starting her new career. In 1999, Debbie earned her degree in secondary education with an emphasis in science and technology and special education from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “I couldn't wait to become a teacher,” she beams and then quickly adds, “I was finally in my element.”

For 10 years, Debbie taught special education and technology. “I’m pretty geeky,” she explains, with a chuckle.That geekiness propelled her to a program called GenYES at Shadow Mountain High School, where she taught for nine years. “I couldn’t have been happier,” she says.

“I had a lot of bright students, which allowed us to do a lot of innovative things,” Debbie says. We’d watch an MIT movie or TED Talk and the kids (as she affectionately refers to them) would get all jazzed and say, ‘Let’s do that,’ and we would.”

Debbie created a robust program and set her sights high, “We were already 3D printing five years ago,” she boasts. “The more you give your students, the more they absorb and want to do.”

A bold idea takes off

After helping so many teachers and kids who visited their media center with computer and phone problems, Debbie and the kids got the idea of offering their tech knowledge to the community.

“For example,” Debbie explains, “say Grandma gets a Kindle and she doesn’t understand how it works. She’d be able to come to our media center in the school, have the kids help her and they’d charge a service fee.” What Debbie is describing is an entrepreneurship. She wanted to build a business with her students.

This unconventional team tried many times to launch their idea, but encountered a lot of red tape along the way, mostly roadblocks with the school district. But here’s the cool part: When you give kids a cocktail of ideas and encouragement, they just might succeed.

These kids are an example of that. After Plan A didn’t pan out, they moved on to Plan B. The kids asked Debbie if they could start their own business — separate from the school. Debbie’s response? “Probably something inappropriate,” she laughs.  

That said, she didn’t give a hard no. Debbie thought about it over the weekend and came back to school on Monday and gave her students the green light. “They got their business plan and ideas together, and in my heart I knew it was a good concept. So many people need tech support and don’t have anyone to ask.”

Trying to get funding wasn’t easy, either. Debbie says they were laughed at — at first. As you know by now, this group doesn’t let anything stand in their way. “We had such a progressive technology program and we’d done some work with Cisco (a technology giant) so I went to them for a grant. And they gave it to us,” Debbie relays, almost in disbelief.

Finding a home

After a lot of research, Debbie and the kids found their home: a corner office in a shopping plaza on 7th Street and Thunderbird. Generation Tech Support was born. Debbie says the entire process was a teaching experience. “The kids talked to leasing agents, interviewed accountants and met with an attorney to draft business policies,” she says.

Debbie is quick to give her students credit for starting the business from the ground up. She’s also reminiscent of a proud mom when she shares, “Kids that were once shy were shaking hands with business professionals and introducing their business.”

All of the students are stakeholders in Generation Tech Support and, “If they tell me we should think about doing something, I listen. They are young minds and innovators,” Debbie tells us.

Looking back on everything that’s happened, Debbie confirms it wasn’t an easy road. “It was a huge learning curve, jumping into a business. But the skillsets I learned as a teacher were invaluable.” And even though Debbie is no longer a teacher per se, “I’m still a teacher here,” she says lifting her hands up from behind her desk, acknowledging Generation Tech Support.

Going into business with someone is ultimately a partnership and requires trust. Debbie assures us this is true in her case. “The kids and I have such a rapport — we trust each other and trust is invaluable, especially as a teacher.”

Debbie says trust is crucial for teachers because, “When teachers first come into the field, they think they’re supposed to be all-knowing. You know, they're in front of the classroom, teaching. But teaching is a two-way street and the kids have a lot to give.” Debbie says she has learned a lot from her students. “I’m a better teacher because of it. Students also learn from each other, which is peer-mentoring and becomes teamwork later on in life.”

When asked what the best thing she discovered as a teacher is, without hesitation Debbie answers, “To just relax a little bit. And let the learning flow.”

And the best thing Debbie’s taught her students? Well, that would be a long list, but at the top of that list would be responsibility. Generation Tech Support is open seven days a week, making it difficult for Debbie to get away. But not long ago Debbie escaped for four days — leaving the kids in charge. “They ran the store. I didn’t have a bit of worry,” she says. Perhaps sensing our doubt, Debbie insists, “I’m serious.”

In any business, there are bad days. It just comes with the territory. And Debbie and the kids have their share. But those are the days that make them better as a team, “We all come together, inspire each other and get through it,” she says, a watery substance emerging from her eyes. “This may sound corny, but I mean it,” she prefaces, “Every day that I walk into this store is the best moment of my life as a teacher. Because there are students here that I see coming out of themselves, working with customers and putting their whole hearts and souls into something that is bigger than all of us.”