Helping children learn to concentrate is former teacher’s passion

NEW VENTURE: Alisha Potgieter, owner of Biolink Attention Training
NEW VENTURE: Alisha Potgieter, owner of Biolink Attention Training
Image: Annelisa Swana

When the Biolink Attention Training Agency came across her path, former school teacher Alisha Potgieter, 29, was amazed at the level of research that had gone into the development of the programme to help children struggling with the ability to sustain their attention, remain on task, remember schoolwork and follow through with instructions.

After seeing the effects of concentration difficulties in the classroom, she decided to open the agency to help parents find an alternative that did not have an adverse effect on their children.

Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started?      

I am a BEd Hons qualified teacher and was in a grade 7 classroom for five years. During my teaching career, I had spoken to many parents whose children were on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and were desperate to find an alternative that didn’t have such an adverse effect on their children. I am by no means opposed to the use of medication but I do believe that it is important for the parents to have options.

Biolink addresses the root cause of the problems that I was seeing in the classroom and not only treating just the symptoms. I decided to open an agency in Port Elizabeth and we are currently one of 50 agencies in four countries.

What is your core service?

I work with adults and children who struggle with concentration issues and weak executive function. We use a neurocognitive training programme with Nasa-inspired technology to strengthen important pathways in the brain by using short, interactive games.  

Biolink improves academic performance and behaviour while developing cognitive and executive function skills, self-regulation and mindfulness. We assist in the treatment of ADHD, learning disorders, brain processing disorders, learning and attention issues, homework, memory decline and traumatic brain injuries.

In conjunction with this technology, we offer workshops that support and guide the parent as well as the child.

What makes your business unique?

Biolink attention training holds the sole rights to use Play Attention hardware and software on the African continent. We make use of Nasa-inspired hardware and software that carries the Certified Space Technology and Education seal from the Space Foundation.

Our neurocognitive training also differs from regular biofeedback as it makes use of a device that can measure brainwaves in real-time. This BODYWAVE® monitor is used in apps for Olympic athletes, nuclear power operators, law enforcement officers, Da Vinci robotic surgeons, Nasa pilots and Nascar pit crews.

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

You need to understand your target market’s need as well as why they need it.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?

It was a challenge to procure the necessary start-up capital, get exposure and create brand awareness when you’re a new name in Port Elizabeth. It takes persistence and creativity to get that first meeting.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?

You have to be incredibly passionate about what you do. People will not take the time to listen to you if you’re not 100% sold on your product.

Expect to work long hours. As a business owner, it will be a long time before you see a schedule that resembles 8am to 5pm again.

Don’t waste valuable time and resources trying to do everything yourself.

What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?

Effective time management, consistency and finding my ideal client.

What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?

Don’t give up in the first three years. You have to be dedicated — move away from your comfort zone.

How do you measure or define success in your business?

It is so encouraging to see the clients improve month after month. Hearing positive feedback and seeing the tangible changes makes us feel like we’ve brought about change.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

Work at building and growing relationships — people don’t do business with buildings.

What kind of advertising do you do?

Facebook, email, networking (BNI & Ibhayi Small Business Chamber), various social media channels, Youtube videos, television displays and word of mouth.

What is your company’s vision?

Our goal is to be the trusted name in attention training. We want to realise the full potential of every member by fostering relationships built on trust, offering products and services founded in research and providing continuous training and support to parents, teachers and our broader community.

What is your target market?

Our target market is adults and children who struggle with ADHD, learning disorders, brain processing disorders, learning and attention issues, homework, memory decline and traumatic brain injuries.

What have some of your highlights been in running your business?

It has been fantastic to be able to work flexi-time.

How important are social media and an online presence for your business?

It is essential for us to be visible over social media. Even though we do not close a lot of direct business over social media, our potential clients like to be able to see what we do, what we stand for and what others think of our business before they are willing to reach out and commit. It also allows us to answer questions related to our field and offer support in a relaxed environment.

How many people do you employ?

One.

Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?

Definitely! I would like to invest in more BODYWAVE® monitors in order to increase capacity.

How did you acquire funding for the business?

I took a loan from the bank.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?

Surround yourself with people who can give you sound advice based on previous experience — networking events can be very useful.

Don’t reinvent the wheel — do a Google search about the incredible free services available for you to do business.

What do you say are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur must be passionate — believe in your product 200%.

You can never tell a client “I don’t know”. It is your responsibility to take ther initiative and solve their problems, even if that means directing them to someone outside your business.

Be determined. You will face a lot of challenges in the beginning. It is scary to start a business without a safety net.

What do you say are the key traits of a successful employer?

Take care of your employees. It takes more than simply paying a salary. Be a good listener and be flexible so you can implement good ideas from the people who work in that area every day.

What do you wish people knew about your industry?

The education system has gone through some serious changes in the last couple of years. The CAPS curriculum is content-heavy and classrooms are getting bigger every year.

It is becoming easier for learners who need more academic support to fall through the cracks. It is important to move past the stigma attached to learning difficulties and to address any underlying issues as soon as possible. And that is what our business does, it helps with those issues.

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