Who says learning can’t be fun? That’s the thought of the team members behind the education startup SkillPop
Originating in Charlotte in September 2015, SkillPop offers classes for anyone who wants to learn something new, whether it be developing a professional skill for work (like blogging or social media) or exploring a creative avenue they’ve never tried before (like cookie decorating or calligraphy). SkillPop is a continuing education business that strives to pull people in a community together to learn outside of a digital environment.
Founder Haley Bohon saw the need for a community-centric education movement when she started fresh in a new city. In today’s digital society it is hard to meet new people and make friends. There is something about learning and participating with a group that resonated with Bohon.
“Learning has trended online, but sometimes that is not how you learn best,” Bohon says. “You get a social aspect that drops off when you aren’t in a classroom setting. Group fitness classes like yoga are popular, but they are expensive, and are not always what people are looking for.”
Bohon graduated from North Carolina State University in 2012 with a degree in mechanical engineering, and spent a few years working jobs in her field and the tech industry. She and her husband, Steve, self-funded her pop-up class idea, and with the support of friends, their community and a few trusted advisors, SkillPop was formed.
It took off quick—there are now 25+ classes a month in Charlotte and Raleigh. Bohon left her day job earlier this year to run it full-time.
Quick, simple and after work
SkillPop classes are aimed at busy professionals who don’t want to go back to school to pick up a new skill or spend hours combing through YouTube how-to videos. A seat in most classes costs around $30, and classes usually start between 5:30 and 6:30 pm, so people can easily stop by after work. There are no prerequisites to join a class, and no required homework afterwards.
According to Bohon, a lot of SkillPop’s first classes covered do-it-yourself (DIY) subjects. However, as the classes’ popularity grew throughout last year, so did the range of subjects that are taught. Now they offer a class helping people prepare to host guests through Airbnb. There’s also floral pop art, cocktail making, hand embroidery and “Mastering the At-Home Blowout.”
Continuing education is not just on Bohon’s mind. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 73% of American adults consider themselves to be lifelong learners, and 74% of those surveyed had participated in at least one activity to advance their knowledge on a subject. The most common reasons cited in the survey for pursuing training outside of an educational establishment are improving job skills and learning a skill that will make life more interesting.
Bohon and her team seek out local experts to teach the classes on a recurring contract basis. Some instructors bring the skills they teach professionally to the table, others are business owners or hobbyists that want to help others hone in on a skill they have mastered. Interested community members can complete a self referral form if they want to teach a class of their own.
SkillPop not only provides growth opportunity for those attending their classes, but allows its instructors to—as Forbes contributor Terri Burns puts it—”embrace their side-hustle.” A side-hustle is a passion someone pursues outside of their 9-to-5 job that brings in extra income. SkillPop offers an outlet for experts to build a network around and bring attention to the work they love.
Building community through learning
In order to ensure that each attendee gets the opportunity to ask a question or receive some personal attention from the instructor, SkillPop classes are capped at 25 seats. Premium classes are smaller (5 - 8 seats) and cost around $150 per person, but the idea is to offer a more intimate workshop experience between the learner and instructors.
No matter your age, professional background or passion, the SkillPop team doesn’t want you to feel awkward about coming alone to an event.
“What I love about our classes is that you are interacting in a real environment, and even if you don’t make a connection, you still walk away having learned a skill at the end,” says Bohon.
Certain business development classes have peaked the interest of entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners. In a recent social media class held at The Nest in downtown Raleigh, several aspiring business owners came out, including a hairstylist, furniture designer, boutique owner and LuLaRoe Fashion Consultant.
Additional business topics covered have included business branding, rocking a presentation and Adobe Illustrator basics.
Improving daily and growing cautiously
Like any growing business, SkillPop values the opinions of those taking their class. A survey is sent to each attendee to gather opinions about the chosen subject, instructor and venue.
SkillPop has only been in Raleigh for about a month, expanding to the city after a successful first year in Charlotte. In both cities, classes are held in different locations that offer an open, collaborative space to learn. One of Bohon’s favorite class locations in Charlotte is the Savy & Co Real Estate house. Other locations have included hair salons, bakeries and museums.
Participating with venues around the two cities has strengthened SkillPop’s relationship with local business owners and has introduced learners to new places in their cities that they may have never known about.
With the overwhelmingly positive acceptance of SkillPop with their Raleigh expansion—around 80% of courses offered have sold out—the company plans to solidify its presence in these two major North Carolina cities before mapping out future plans.
“At first, we didn’t have a big, grand vision,” Bohon laughs. “I just wanted to put it out there because it resonated with me. [SkillPop] has exceeded expectations, so we are going to press pause after this expansion and have a reflecting period.”
Whether you come with a friend, colleague or by yourself, Bohon and her team will welcome you to the class with a smile and encourage you to dive head first into learning something new. You never know, you may discover a new passion.