August '14 Venture Spotlight: Sono Health and Wellness
Sono Health and Wellness is a team of health experts, curriculum writers, and software professionals passionate about creating affordable, outstanding courses in health, nutrition, and physical education for middle and high-school students. They are currently developing courses for homeschool students. Michael Bojanski is a rising senior at Carolina from Durham, NC and Lawson Kuehnert is a '13 alumnus from Morganton, NC.
You were both homeschooled for a while growing up. Do you think this inspired you to create a curriculum for homeschooled students, or do you think it had more to do with being able to identify a market opportunity?
Michael: A combination of both. Both of us were physically active in high school, but neither of us took a formal PE or health course until coming to UNC-Chapel Hill. From our interactions with other homeschoolers we know this situation isn’t unique to us. Homeschooling parents are increasingly looking outside the home for more specialized educational needs in later middle school and high school, so from our experiences we saw a clear market opportunity.
How did you come up with this idea?
Michael: We came up with this idea gradually. First, we realized that there was quite a bit of capital floating around in the homeschool education market, and that that market was growing in size rapidly. Second, we realized from our experience as homeschoolers that health and physical education are subjects that many homeschooling families fail to teach due to lack of curricular resources. So we decided it was worth our time and effort to create a business plan and see if we could create an MVP and validate the idea.
Why do you think you work well together as a team?
Michael: Lawson thinks big and provides the inspiration, and I am more focused on implementation and hashing out the details. Lawson has been training for some time as a professional triathlete so he is very in tune with physical training and nutrition, and I can complement this source knowledge with my business background. As mentioned before, we both were homeschooled, so we can combine our strengths in meeting the needs of our customers because we understand them so well.
How is Sono different from anything else on the market right now?
Michael: Sono fits in the market as a wonderful middle option between expensive online classes led by a teacher and the cheaper but more time intensive route of parents designing their own health courses. We provide the flexibility, content rigor, and credibility of an online course but at a fraction of the cost.
What kind of impact do you see Sono having on home education?
Michael: We plan on becoming the leader in health, nutrition, and physical education in the homeschool market. This market is over a billion dollars annually and homeschooling has grown by 18% since 2007 and 75% since 1999. Our first two courses will focus on basic PE, health, and nutrition, but we plan on branching out into both health-related career exploration and more specialized classes like sports nutrition, anatomy, and sports psychology.
You guys have been at 1789 for the past several months and are now moving on to Launch Chapel Hill. What’s that experience been like?
Lawson: 1789 Venture Lab is an excellent bridge between the university entrepreneurial company and a more advanced incubator like Launch Chapel Hill. We were privileged to be one of the first companies to work with 1789, and the experience there has been incredible. As a team of student entrepreneurs, there is nothing better than having access to a workspace, mentors, and networking events that can help you transition from idea to reality. This is what 1789 provides, and it is helping students at Chapel Hill build out great business concepts with little or no angel capital.
Moving from 1789 to Launch is somewhat akin to the transition from high school to college. There is a bit more financial investment, a more serious focus, and more access to resources and partnerships. At the same time, the close ties between 1789 and Launch are making the transition extremely smooth, and we are ready to hit the ground running with Launch since we are already familiar with many of the faces there from our time at 1789.
What are you most looking forward to in your transition to Launch?
Lawson: As an early-stage start-up, we are most looking forward to the community and resource partnerships at Launch. Staying motivated as an early-stage entrepreneur can be difficult, and we are excited to be surrounded by excellent mentors and other young companies at Launch who are dedicated to attaining their goals while enjoying the process as well.
What are the next steps for Sono?
Lawson: We are currently finalizing a new sales-page design for our inaugural online course and finishing the back-end of our education software platform. Once this is complete, we will be doing sales and marketing work for a couple months to validate the product and accrue revenue to re-invest in software upgrades before our first course launches in late January 2015.
What’s it like being a full-time student and entrepreneur?
Michael: Lawson actually graduated in May 2013, but I still have one more year left and will graduate in May 2015. I love applying my class knowledge in the business school to real world applications. I’m taking care of the accounting, and it’s a whole new ball game when you’re actually thinking about meeting standards for tax season and sending out official reports to investors. At first it’s a bit intimidating, but I am thrilled to work on something so real.
Do you have any advice for young, aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Michael: Just do it. Move out of the PowerPoint and planning stage and actually test something out. Don’t be afraid to invest some of your own money at an idea during a trial run. Definitely compete in the Carolina Challenge if you haven’t already as you will receive great feedback on your idea and the chance to win some cash (we came in second for our track in 2014 and took home $2,500).
An abbreviated version of this interview originally appeared in the 1789 August 2014 newsletter. To read more stories like Michael and Lawson's, sign up for our newsletter here.
Learn more about Sono Health and Wellness on their website.