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Young entrepreneur learns from early marketing mistake

Larissa Lippe is working a delicate balance between growing her student-led tutoring business in Sarasota and her other life as a college student.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. November 29, 2023
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Larissa Lippe learned that failing is part of being an entrepreneur after a small marketing mistake.
Larissa Lippe learned that failing is part of being an entrepreneur after a small marketing mistake.
Photo by Lori Sax
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Larissa Lippe is a lot of things. But a person who gives up, she is not. 

The first year college student at Emory University in Atlanta was selected for a Tedx Bradenton event in September, where community leaders gave speeches under the theme "Writing the Future." Lippe's Ted Talk was based on two main ideas: youth and young adults are undervalued and failure is inevitable. While her best friends hosted a streaming party in Boston and her family heard the talk for the first time in the audience, Lippe was speaking from experience. 

Lippe, a business major who’s considering double majoring in biology, also runs a business she started in high school. Smart Kids Tutor, based in Sarasota, has over 30 tutors who work with over 100 students each month through one-on-one and group tutoring. Lippe, 19, founded the company in January 2021. 

After graduating from Riverview High School in Sarasota in 2022, she took a gap year during which she created an after school program for Ashton Elementary School in Sarasota. She initially set it up as a five-day program in partnership with STEMania in Sarasota.

“When we did the initial marketing, the whole thing bombed,” she says. “On the flyers we put out in the school and the information we made public, for some reason, we put the entire cost for the whole semester on the flyers. And it was an insane amount of money." 

That insane amount, taken over the whole year, was a sticker-shocking $2,700. “I spent the entire semester working to try and come back from that,” she says. 

The first semester, they only had four students attend. Lippe says six students is the breakeven point. 

“I poured so much into it,” she recalls. “But I screwed one thing up and the whole thing crashed. That was a very new and not fun experience, (but) I got up and reevaluated what went wrong.”

Now the program has 11 students with more signing up soon, she says. The program costs about $35 a day, which is less than the lowest one-on-one tutoring offering, that starts at $40 an hour. The biggest expense is the rent, she says, though declined to say how much. 

The gap year, while a critical learning experience for a young entrepreneur, was also necessary for Lippe's sanity. Her senior year of high school was a fast-paced blur, from scheduling calls with tutoring clients during lunch period to waking up at 4 a.m. to send press releases to taking news interviews in the hallway during the middle of class. She was also working at STEMania; president of three organizations; attended academic competitions; in the International Baccalaureate program; and had family and friend commitments.

“I was trying my best to take care of my mental health, but my physical health didn’t react well to all of the stress,” she says. 

How bad did it get? She ended up in the hospital four times that year. “Since then, I have come back and taken control of my physical health.” Lippe ran her first triathlon in early September and is actively training for the next one. 

The tutoring business, meanwhile, is growing. Revenue, while not doubling over 2022, will be up in 2023, she says. Lippe also has a new idea about to come to fruition: Smart Kids Tutor Foundation — a nonprofit designed to offer an affordable tutoring option for parents. 

“Tutoring is on the more expensive side,” she says, noting Smart Kids Tutor is on the lower end of that. “The goal is to target students K-12 that specifically qualify for free and reduced lunch. We want to help them by offering tutoring that is way below cost.” 

Once that’s running properly, Lippe hopes to expand in-person tutoring through the nonprofit to the Atlanta area, but says that’s still a few years out. 

The tutoring company is always looking for more tutors, as long as they’re current high school or college students. “A lot of our students work better with someone they relate to,” she says. The current market is in north Sarasota County, but she's planning to expand south toward Venice. 

Lippe’s even seeing her hard work paying off through the students. The third student she ever tutored, Alicia, was in second grade when they started. Lippe recalls tutoring her multiple times a week. Now, Alicia’s in fifth grade and “she does not need my help anymore. If she wanted to be in the advanced classes at school, she absolutely could,” Lippe says. “Seeing her grow and take control of her academics, that was amazing.” 


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