Elena Suarez, M.A. Pastoral Ministry ‘05, Owner Math Monkey of Pinecrest

Elena Suarez is the owner and Monkey in Charge at Math Monkey of Pinecrest, a supplemental education service company that has been in business in our community for 6 years. Prior to Math Monkey, Elena spent 30 years in the technology industry, including 23 years at IBM and 3 years at Apple. Her experience and roles during those years include systems engineering, sales training, training management, sales operations, and technical sales management.

She received her Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from St. Thomas University in 2005. Her passion for education led her to become the first Math Monkey franchisee in 2006.

1. How is Math Monkey different from other math enrichment programs?
Our passion is for kids to fall in love with math. There are two main strategies we use to encourage this: a game based curriculum and the integration of Vedic Mathematics in our lessons. Vedic Math helps turns the kids on to math and numbers by teaching them easy and fun ways to perform math calculations mentally. The games keep the kids entertained while they learn and interested in coming back for more.

2. Why do you believe so many children lack speed, understanding, and confidence in math - and in themselves?
I think there are many factors involved: teachers have too many kids in their classrooms and are not able to focus on the kids that are not getting the concepts when they are covered, the ever changing standards in our school system, the emphasis on “teaching to the test” rather than on inspiring the kids to become excited about learning, to name a few. For many adults, math was a subject that was feared and I believe that parents unwittingly pass this fear on to their kids by the comments they make in front of them about math or how difficult it was for them when they were growing up.

3. You left the technology industry after 30 years to become the first Math Monkey franchisee in the U.S.  What lead you to make that life-changing decision?
Although I thoroughly enjoyed my 30-year career and all the financial success that came with it, for many years I had a nagging little voice inside that questioned whether I was living out the purpose that God had for me. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what that plan was. I knew that I had a passion for education and children and in my being involved in making a difference in the academic lives of children, knowing from personal experience the difference that my education had made in my own life. Then one day I saw a small ad in the Miami Herald with a picture of a monkey that said something about kids, math, and fun. It definitely got my attention and the more I looked into this business opportunity, the more I felt drawn to it. I realized at that point in my life that if I didn’t take this step now, I probably would never do it and didn’t want to one day regret it. It was a huge risk for me, having never had my own business and being the first of any franchise system is not the safest and most secure way to go into business.

4. How did your experience at St. Thomas University help prepare you for this undertaking?
During my time in the Institute for Pastoral Ministry at St. Thomas, it became crystal clear to me that I needed to work with children in an educational capacity. One of the most powerful and inspiring messages I received in Dr. Mary Carter Warren’s “Determining Ministerial Roles” class was the quote from Frederick Buechner on vocation: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I believe I found that place for me and I encourage anyone that wants to have a fulfilling and rewarding work life to search for that place for themselves until they find it.

5. What are some important lessons that you have learned as a business owner that you would like to share with future entrepreneurs?
  • Be careful who you trust.
  • There are silver linings in every cloud, so don’t give up when it seems that your business issues are insurmountable.
  • Treat your employees and your clients with fairness, integrity, and compassion. Jump through hoops to help them achieve their goals.
  • Be passionate about your business. If you don’t feel it, find a different business.
  • Find time to rest and enjoy your life outside of work.

6. What is next for you and for Math Monkey?
Today we are an independent business and no longer part of a franchise system. I am currently focused on streamlining our growing operations and always looking for ways to improve and expand our offerings. My personal goal, as I get closer to a retirement age, is to build the business to a level that will be attractive to a future buyer. My dream is that this business continues without me one day and that the new owner or owners will have the passion, drive, and ability to replicate what we do into multiple locations.

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