This couple is keeping STEAM education front and center during the pandemic

Kosal and Tanisha Chea talk about being business partners in their education venture, Idea Lab Kids.
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Couple: Kosal and Tanisha Chea
How long in relationship? Married since 2015
How long in business together? Idea Lab Kids – Ballantyne since 2019

Kosal and Tanisha Chea say the key to balancing their personal and professional relationship is defining their roles and staying in their lanes.

The couple owns a franchise location of Idea Lab Kids, a hands-on learning program that focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.) for kids ages 4 to 14. 

Tanisha, a C-suite marketing executive whose resume includes stints with Krispy Kreme, Carraba’s Italian Grill and Taco Bell, knew that she wanted to leave corporate America. She pursued the opportunity of full-time entrepreneurship as a way to spend more time with their 3-year-old twin sons. 

When they launched Idea Lab Kids in December 2019, Kosal left his position as an assistant principal to run the business. Tanisha stepped down from her corporate job soon after.

Their new roles would complement their strengths: Kosal drew on his 19-year experience in public education to teach the lessons and engage with families, while Tanisha managed marketing and development.

In the new year, they planned to open a physical space in Ballantyne. They had no idea their timeline coincided with the national outbreak of the coronavirus.

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Photo: QCity Metro

Starting a business can be challenging in the best of times, but add in a global pandemic, then hard decisions had to be made.

“I remember distinctly we were about to sign a lease on this place when the pandemic hit. We had a conversation of ’do we keep going or do we stop?’” Tanisha explained.

They pressed on. 

With students learning from home, the couple started broadcasting from their kitchen. To gain traction, they offered free online classes with Kosal teaching a different topic every other day. Viewership increased through word-of-mouth. 

[Also read: RV travel inspired these dentists to launch new venture]

When the governor’s executive order allowed them to safely open last summer, Kosal and Tanisha welcomed about three to seven kids per class for camps where they introduced topics like robotics, culinary arts and coding. When Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools planned to open classrooms in the fall, parents asked if their children could continue attending Idea Lab Kids.

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The tech lab is one of the S.T.E.A.M.-focused spaces in Idea Lab Kids – Ballantyne. Photo: QCity Metro

“They said, ‘Can you help us with the remote learning part?’ And that’s when we started our pivot to do remote learning to support families — Idea Labs Plus,” Tanisha said.

Since then, their headcount ranges from 28 to 35 kids each day taught by a handful of teachers split among five themed classrooms plus a gym. Hand sanitizing stations are in each room along with medical-grade air purifiers. 

While Kosal focuses on the day-to-day operations, Tanisha manages their social media platforms and business development. If all things go according to plan, the Cheas will open their second location next summer.

Tanisha says she thrives in the hustle and bustle of entrepreneurship, but this venture was Kosal’s first foray into the business world. 

His biggest lesson learned?

“There’s a lot of bills. You bring in money that everyone takes a piece of,” he laughed as he compared his process of managing budgets when he was in public schools.

Tanisha says she’s figuring how to turn off and balance so “I don’t create an unhealthy picture of work for my kids.”

When asked their advice to couples thinking of starting a business together, Kosal says understanding each other’s strengths is crucial.

“Letting her have the freedom to excel at those strengths has been really good for us.”

Do you know other Charlotte-based couples who run a business together? Tell us more in this five-question survey.

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