Female Disruptors: Jessica Sikora of 3ontessori On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Trust that everything will be okay: I firmly believe that releasing the fear of failure and thinking of every moment as an opportunity to learn has allowed me to take great strides in my career, and in my life. As I have taken leaps of faith, despite any apprehension, I always remind myself that it has always worked out in the past — it’ll all be okay.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Sikora.
Jessica Sikora is turning Montessori on its side at 3ontessori, as Co-founder and COO. By expanding access to Montessori education through curated boxed collections and monthly themed sensory activities that provide an all-in-one solution for at-home learning, the skills of our young budding leaders and future entrepreneurs can flourish.
She is also passionate about bringing Montessori education to those in low income and underrepresented communities because, in her eyes, every child has the chance to change the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew up in a traditional Asian-American household, and as a first-generation American, I was expected to pursue a career in healthcare as a part of my parents’ “American Dream.” While I knew early on that I was very much creative-focused, finding a love of art and storytelling, I quickly suppressed that side of myself to do what I was expected. Because of that, I felt that I never had a chance in my childhood to explore my interests, skills, and passions — and it wasn’t until I moved out as a young adult at the age of 23, that I finally had a chance to “meet myself” for the first time. For the first time ever, I had the opportunity to explore my strengths and weaknesses, seek out learning opportunities in the topics that I truly loved. Between corporate careers, I took up a nannying job and fell in love with the curiosity and wonder in the little boy that I cared for. Eager to preserve his love of learning and foster his confidence, I discovered Montessori education and was instantly drawn to this child-led learning. Spending hours researching activities and scouring the Internet to order the right toys and tools, I realized the gap in the market and wanted to make bringing Montessori education easy for busy parents.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Montessori education has been known for years as a school system for the wealthy. With sky-high tuition rates even for part-time enrollment in these schools, it is no surprise that many families across the world are actually unaware of what Montessori learning actually is. It has only been within the last few years that we have seen Montessori-inspired products emerge, and the natural wooden toys are flocked playroom shelves posted on social media. But the work I’m doing at 3ontessori with my co-founder Christian goes beyond the aesthetic, and instead focuses on the need to expand access to these crucial learning principles to nurture the innate curiosity and love of learning of our littlest leaders. We aren’t just providing a Montessori all-in-one solution for families to have these learning tools at home, but are working to ensure that every child has a chance to learn and to change the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Not sure I would necessarily classify it as a mistake, but when I first stumbled across the company at its very early stages, I bombarded my now-cofounder and business partner, Christian, with endless emails with my thoughts about the company, sharing about my own experiences with learning and Montessori education, and ideas about the company roadmap and its possibilities. Eventually, after maybe about 2–3 months, he did give in and schedule a call with me to discuss it further and, the rest is history.
Looking back on it, I laugh and wonder what would have happened had Christian not seen my flood of emails as a sign of passion for the company. I think in many other cases, business owners would have been annoyed with my constant communications and blocked me — thankful that he gave me that chance to chat with him about the company and be a partner to this adventure.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I am incredibly thankful to have so many mentors across industries who have believed in me, and my many ideas. From building a nonprofit organization (SUPERBANDS) right out of college, to starting other small businesses — like a small creative agency plus a (failed) entertainment-focused subscription box.
I would say that one of my mentors came from a full-time job I had, where there was a mentorship program offered. I had searched through a list of available mentors and something about her bio stood out to me. I could tell she had a personality that would be a match for mine, and her role in the creative space really appealed to me as I was eager to pursue a creative role in the company. We spoke for months, and she constantly encouraged me to seek out new opportunities and calmed my fears about seeking roles externally. When I was finally offered a role that aligned with my creative pursuits at a startup, she was the one who truly encouraged me to take the leap. She reminded me of how opportunities like the one I had were few and far between and made me realize that if I didn’t take the chance, I would spend years wondering “what if.” While the startup role didn’t work out, it was the biggest — and best — decision I could have made in my career because it was my “proof” that my talents, skills, and passions could truly excel elsewhere, and all I had to do was to trust myself. Without her encouragement, I would have never taken the leap and without that leap, I would not be in this role at 3ontessori.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruption can be so powerful, in a positive way, when it opens up new opportunities for communities who may have been overlooked in the past, when resources are expanded across regions, and when new solutions are identified (or developed) to solve ongoing issues or pain points.
However, despite this, ‘disruption’ means change, and many people feel friction when it comes to changing their routines, lifestyles, and ways of thinking which can be frustrating or difficult for them. There are processes and systems that have been tried and true for decades, that people aren’t ready to change.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Trust that everything will be okay: I firmly believe that releasing the fear of failure and thinking of every moment as an opportunity to learn has allowed me to take great strides in my career, and in my life. As I have taken leaps of faith, despite any apprehension, I always remind myself that it has always worked out in the past — it’ll all be okay.
- Networking is an investment in your business: I grew up being very shy and afraid to speak with people I didn’t know. I even remember telling people I knew about my first business idea and them telling me that they weren’t sure I would succeed because I didn’t know anyone — in any relevant roles or industries — who could help me. However, I had to silence my fears early on and I began cold emailing and cold pitching on LinkedIn, putting myself out there — and it was through building that network that I was able to grow, and I keep that in mind every day now too, ensuring I continue to surround myself with people who are smarter than me and more experienced than me, eager to learn.
- Fail fast: I used to be so afraid of failure, which had stopped me for years from pursuing ideas I’ve had. I had to learn to stop thinking of small hiccups as failures, and instead re-frame them as learning experiences that allow me to pivot and find the right footing to progress forward.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Once we build our foundation through our curated boxed collections of Montessori tools and then roll out our monthly activity kits, we hope to open a network of Montessori schools that, for the first time, formally integrates the essential components of STEAM education with the foundational principles of Montessori learning. Not only that, but we will be offering discounted tuition and sliding scale tuition in low income communities or families that need financial assistance, as well as providing a “Giveback program” with our boxes, so that every child has a chance to discover (and retain) their curiosity and love of learning regardless of their background or location.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Coming from my own experience, I had spent a lot of time sitting in the shadows thinking that I was not “good enough” to take on roles of leadership, pursue business ideas, or jump into industries when I didn’t meet 100% of the qualifications. It can be easy for a woman to discredit themselves and take a backseat to their male counterparts, or to avoid speaking up when it comes time for a raise or promotion, but I hope we will continue to take great strides to show the world what we can do.
I also do think sometimes, a woman’s persistence when advocating for themselves, especially to be in a leadership role. can very easily come across as “annoying” while a male’s persistence is more likely to come across as “passionate and driven.”
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
One of the TedX talks that I reference all the time is “Montessori = Creativity Unleashed” by Judi Bauerlein. I stumbled across this video around the time that I began nannying for a 5 year old boy who gave me a glimpse of the love of learning that I had forgotten was so innately programmed into every child. As I started to research Montessori education and figure out what I could do in my 9–5 hours him, this lecture really opened my eyes to this child-led learning and I was hooked. I compared it to my past experience working in early childhood development centers and daycares, realizing the gap in the things we were teaching children and the gaps in the accessibility of Montessori learning across communities. While I continued to introduce Montessori education to the children I babysat in future years, it wasn’t until recently that Christian and I combined forces to really take action through 3ontessori.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’m actually hoping to do that through 3ontessori! If you look around at existing Montessori schools and their tuition prices, it is disheartening to think that there are so many children who are unable to learn these foundational principles simply due to financial reasons. By bringing Montessori education to as many children as possible –
regardless of socioeconomic status, location, or background — 3ontessori is shaping our future leaders, our budding entrepreneurs, our passionate philanthropists, and our unstoppable creatives of tomorrow. We are allowing the child to lead us, and in the work we are doing, we will help them build a pathway to their desired future… and that’s how you change the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To have something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” As a kid, I spent a lot of time staying quiet, fearful of what others might think of my ideas or think of me as a person. I realized in my early adult years, when I had my first business idea, that I couldn’t let myself just stay quiet anymore and had to learn to step outside of my comfort zone. As new chapters of my life have unfolded, and new milestones have blossomed, I have learned to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Looking at my greatest blessings and biggest accomplishments, I realize more and more that these all came from taking a leap of faith and trusting that everything will work out.
The quote is something I still reference to this day, in all aspects of my life beyond just business. When making a decision, I constantly think to myself: Is my fear greater than my desire to have this outcome?
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow the work we are doing at www.3ontessori.com, follow us on Instagram (@3ontessori), and sign up for our newsletter (on our website) to stay up-to-date on this exciting journey to turn Montessori on its side.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!