Don Scheeler, executive vice president of specialized services at Learn It Systems, has more than 25 years of experience in the education industry. He has leveraged that to broaden the range of services Learn It provides, tapped large markets such as autism and made strategic acquisitions in a quest for rapid growth.
“Autism is multibillion dollar opportunity,” he told citybizlist’s Edwin Warfield in an interview. “There is a tremendous amount of opportunity to do roll-ups but also expand our services from an organic standpoint as well.”
Before joining Learn It, Scheeler spent 15 years with the Sylvan/Educate family of companies, and served as the president and CEO of Progressus Therapy, a national provider of school-based therapy, and the general manager for the higher education startup 2U (formerly 2tor).
Scheeler earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance from the University of Maryland and a Masters in Business Management from the Johns Hopkins University.
EDWIN WARFIELD: How important is autism in your scheme of things?
DON SCHEELER: Autism is multibillion dollar opportunity there. We are probably the third- or fourth-largest provider of autism services in the country and we are a sub-$100 million business in total and half of that or so is where our autism business is. Being that large of a provider in a country that has so much needs really shows how fragmented it is and there is a tremendous amount of opportunity to do roll-ups but also expand our services from an organic standpoint as well.
Mike, I and others are trying to figure out, are we Procter & Gamble with all these brands underneath it? Or, you know, do we need to become a brand? And its very difficult because, you know it would be hard to change the Trellis brand here in Maryland. It has so much brand equity. They have done such a tremendous job and so for us to change that locally would be very difficult. At this point, we are still kind of pulling these together. We do not want to necessarily expand the five or so companies and brands that we have and so we are trying to tuck them into those from this standpoint.
It is $3 billion or $4 billion worth of services, whether it is in schools, from a medical standpoint as well, and that is the difference between Learn It and the afterschool market. It was 100% funded by the federal government, No Child Left Behind, and now our funds come from the state of Maryland, they come from insurance companies, federal IDA dollars, Individuals With Disabilities Act. So we really have diversified from state to federal to insurance and very, very helpful from an LLR standpoint, financial standpoint that you do not have a stroke of the pen that happened with the No Child Left Behind. It can really hurt our business.
I also think that because there is one in 68 kids that have been diagnosed with autism, that there is a huge grassroots. It goes across all economic stratospheres of folks and so that makes sure that everybody really has skin in the game. I know Pat Skerry at the Towson University has been a phenomenal advocate and does a great job of kind of awareness and does a lot of speaking. His family situation, he has come to the Trellis board to speak for folks and so it's just across all of the board. So I think that grassroots effort are really going to make sure that there is funding that continues because you look at the administration that are currently, you know, laying out new budget and its like, you know, where are these mental health dollars going to come from? And I think there is going to be a considerable amount of pushback to make sure these kids get the funding and then you know what happens after they turn 21, which is when a lot of the funds stop. They still have issues and are still in need of them. So that is something I think as a country we are going to have to figure out as well.
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