As applications for the 2012 Inc. 500|5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, click here). One that caught our eye was Scottsdale, Arizona-based Sure Prep Learning.
After graduating from college David Dodge went abroad to teach english to students ranging from executives of multi-national corporations to primary and secondary schoolchildren. After living in places like Argentina, Mexico and West Africa, David Dodge never thought about returning to the States.
But his desire to earn his MBA lured him back to America, where a 2005 business plan competition at his school Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona helped Dodge solidify an idea that he'd been sketching in his journal for years. The idea was for a tutoring service that catered to each student’s individual learning needs.
Placing second in the competition, Dodge felt confident his idea could really transform into business, so he decided to launch Sure Prep. His wife, who also attended Thunderbird, helped him in between her full-time job.
“I was a full-time student and ended up working as a full-time business owner. It was crazy,” he says. “I worked 80-, 90-hour weeks but I learned a ton.”
Dodge emersed himself in his fledling business—tutoring students, recruiting tutors, developing programming and marketing around the Phoenix-metropolitan area—but still there were days that he was faced with the decision to pay the electrical bill or keep his business afloat.
Business picked up though—mostly through referrals—and prompted the attention of investors, but Dodge turned them down. “I seriously considered it, but I decided ultimately that I wanted control of my company, so I decided to stay on my own,” the CEO says.
And it paid off. Now, Sure Prep has more than 700 tutors and serves four states. With a three-year growth rate of about 400%, the company boasts a 2011 revenue of over $3 million. Looking forward, Dodge sees the business expanding globally, extending into Asia and Latin America.
With students from Kindergarten to college, Sure Prep helps with a range of subjects, including test preparation. Believing the relationship between the tutor and student as highly important, the company matches the pair based not only on academics, but also on learning and teaching styles, personalities, and even hobbies.
In addition to working with students privately, Sure Prep also partners with schools, providing instruction for students in at-risk communities. In fact, Dodge says the company offers a financial aid-type program, giving free or reduced-price tutoring to "literally thousands of families."
This attitude of giving back actually led to the recently launched Prepology Foundation—which Dodge currently sits on the board of and helped found—which offers free or low-cost test preparation, academic tutoring, and college counseling for underserved communities.
"Our social mission is very important to us," he said. "It’s become part of our DNA and it’s something we’ll continue to build."