Money Talks

ABC's Of ESL

Talk about a booming business. "The market's potential is endless," says Gail Raimi Dreyfuss, adding that about three-quarters of people worldwide aren't native English speakers. Dreyfuss founded the Wisconsin English Second Language Institute (WESLI) in Madison, Wisconsin, with husband Jeff in 1981.

At WESLI, which is conveniently located near the University of Wisconsin, most ESL students generally fall into one of two categories: college-bound students and business executives. "We both had Ph.D.s in linguisitics, but we couldn't find two university jobs in the same city," says Dreyfuss. "We decided to start an English school and did all the teaching ourselves. By sheer luck, we got 50 students when we opened."

Today, WESLI has so many students and so much business, the Dreyfusses don't have time to teach anymore. That task is left to a teaching staff of 35.

Some ESL entrepreneurs may have linguistics backgrounds, but you don't need a related degree or even a license (except in a few states) to open an English school. Just ask Joe Stipek. He got his first taste of teaching English as a tutor to business executives in France in 1988.

Upon his return to the United States, he took a job with an ESL school in Texas, and in 1991, he and his wife purchased the school and began expanding it. Today, Intensive English Institute (IEI) is based in Portland, Oregon, has six locations nationwide, about 400 students and 50 teachers, and brings in about $5 million in annual revenues.

As for why Stipek wanted to purchase that first school, "I saw that the industry was expanding--there's a huge increase in the number of foreign students coming to the U.S.--and with the right marketing, I knew IEI could expand as well."

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This article was originally published in the September 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Money Talks.

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