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The Pandemic Created 'Childcare Deserts,' and This Bilingual Education Company Is Stepping In to Fill the Void Canadian brand Maple Bear had been eyeing expansion to the U.S. for a while, but changing demographics during the pandemic finally made the time right.

By Kim Kavin

This story appears in the June 2022 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Courtesy of Maple Bear

Bilingualism is much more than a mark of cultural proficiency or something that looks good on a résumé. Research shows that people who speak more than one language have stronger attention and task-switching capabilities, and bilingual children as young as seven months adjust better to environmental changes. Understandably, more U.S. parents want these benefits for their kids, and Maple Bear — a bilingual education company headquartered in Canada, operating 550 schools in 32 countries — is stepping in to meet demand.

In the next five years, Maple Bear is set to open more than 200 U.S. franchises — largely in regions that saw an influx of former city-dwellers during the pandemic, like the "sun belt" of Florida, Arizona, Texas, and Southern California. The schools offer age-appropriate classes in Spanish, French, Mandarin, and Hindi.

Related: Children's-Education Franchises Are Going Hi-Tech

Arno Krug became Maple Bear's global CEO in 2021, after four years of leading the brand's Latin America operations (Maple Bear was founded in 2005 by Rodney Briggs, who remains on as chairman). Krug says internal research shows that about 90% of all parents view bilingual education as a way to improve cognitive development, global opportunities, admission to good schools, and cultural and ethnic awareness. The top reason Maple Bear found for not enrolling children in bilingual classes? Lack of available classes. Here, Krug shares why it's finally Maple Bear's big moment.

Maple Bear has operated worldwide for 17 years. Why make the push into the United States now?

Four or five years ago, we opened a few schools in the United States to test the model, but now is the moment to accelerate. In the last three years, all the dynamics changed. A lot of people moved from New York or Los Angeles to Texas or Phoenix or Florida. There was a lot of immigration happening inside the country. That created what they're calling "childcare deserts."

What's a childcare desert?

Studies show that about 51% of families don't have childcare or a school near where they just moved. The public system didn't open schools fast enough. Developers are still building houses. Maple Bear can open a school in seven or eight months.

Do franchise owners need to be bilingual?

No. We are looking for investors or potential partners who understand that education will change their lives as entrepreneurs, give their families a legacy business, and help their communities. Of course, it's a good business — you need to make money — but you have to have "doing good" in your heart. Maybe you're a retired teacher, a retired principal, somebody from an education company that is diversifying a portfolio. Or maybe you're an experienced franchisee who wants to add to your portfolio.

Related: They Both Failed At Their Past Franchises. It Taught Them How to Break the Mold

What's the initial investment for a Maple Bear franchise?

We need $600,000 to start, depending on resources available. If you build a space from scratch, that affects cost. Partnerships are okay, and you can rent an existing space. Real estate and finding a good location at a price you can afford is always a challenge. But we help franchisees select the right teachers, staff, and personnel. Our product is a service. It's a people business. We need to bring in and train the best people available.

Do you plan to stop franchising in the U.S. after you hit 200 locations?

We are going to go for much more over time. We can connect students in Dallas with students in Singapore. They're discussing geographical situations, all kinds of things. They really can become miniature global citizens.

Kim Kavin was an editorial staffer at newspapers and magazines for a decade before going full-time freelance in 2003. She has written for The Washington Post, NBC’s ThinkThe Hill and more about the need to protect independent contractor careers. She co-founded the grassroots, nonpartisan, self-funded group Fight For Freelancers.

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