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8 Questions with WordTopia sisters, Dr. Steph and Miss Jen

Dr. Steph and Miss Jen are sisters, educators, entrepreneurs and now business owners with the launch of WordTopia, a learning and bookstore company based out of our Belmont location.

WordTopia is broken down into two categories: CourseTopia and BookTopia. CourseTopia, primarily run by Dr. Steph, is the learning part of the company that offers comprehensive digital course design, writing services and more. BookTopia, primarily run by Miss Jen, is an online bookstore with a wide selection of over 2,000 used books across plenty of genres.

Dr. Steph and Miss Jen work together and separately across WordTopia, allowing them to create efficiencies while also enjoying the opportunity to partner with family. They emphasize social-emotional learning, working to advocate for and amplify the voices of marginalized communities.

They believe in work/life balance, emphasize health & wellness and bring a real human-being touch into everything they do. We were curious to learn more about their path to business ownership, working with family and trying to make the world a slightly better place. We asked them eight questions about themselves and WordTopia, and you can read all the answers below:

1. When did you start WordTopia, and what inspired you to do so?

WordTopia officially became a business on January 1st of this year (2022). We had been running an online retail business with a cousin since the Pandemic lock down in July of 2020, and when our cousin decided to walk away from the first business, we sisters took the money we’d saved up there to start this new venture that focused on books & learning.

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2. What came first, BookTopia or CourseTopia?

BookTopia came first! We accidentally stumbled into the online bookstore market during our time as online retailers, and it was fun! Dr. Steph is a lifelong reader and Miss Jen could see the vision of bookselling as a great side-hustle. CourseTopia is part of our entrepreneurship, version 2.0, and we are still figuring that part out.

3. Dr. Steph, can you tell us a bit about your background in education and how you decide what courses to include in CourseTopia?

DR. STEPH: I have 15+ years’ experience. Since 2011, I have advocated for the inclusion of technology in the classroom, and in all learning experiences. In 2014, I was the founding director of a center for Developmental Reading and English (DREC) at Halifax Community college. In 2015, I was invited to intern with the founding director of Clemson University’s Office of Teaching Effectiveness & Innovation (OTEI), and subsequently asked to run the OTEI as interim managing director. In 2018, I was invited to intern with the Graduate and Faculty support services at the University of Maynooth, where I helped develop, design, and market an innovative professional development and certification programme.

In 2020, I completed my doctoral dissertation that focused on ways that folks in faculty and educational development professions build community and implement best practices for teaching, learning and mentorship. In 2020-2022, I worked in middle grades at CMS, where I successfully taught online and hybrid courses for up to 142 students (and their parents) during the pandemic.

When it comes to creating courses for CourseTopia, we are mostly providing support services. Because of my exposure to so much diversity in education, I am in a unique position to help small businesses and educators create innovative, engaging, relevant learning content. With CourseTopia, I can meet clients where they are. Currently, I am focusing on offering the following services:

  1. Creating courses from scratch
  2. Translating in-person courses or presentations into active digital learning experiences
  3. Creating digital content (landing pages, learning materials, SOPs, e-books, etc) to supplement onboarding and training for employees

So far, under the “CourseTopia” brand, we have designed a digital Serv-Safe food safety manager course that is available on our website (wordtopiasisters.com) and I have just finished offering my first round of Canva Basics – a free introductory course – here at hygge belmont (and online) with affordable expansion workshops forthcoming. These were both created out of conversations with people here at hygge. I have also published a supplementary e-book (available on Kindle or our website) for folks who want to know the basics on creating digital badges.

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4. Jennifer, can you talk a bit about BookTopia? How can people support it and what are your goals with the store?

MISS JEN: BookTopia is our online bookstore. We sell primarily used books on multiple ecommerce sites including our own website as well as ebay and Instagram. Recently we have also started to partner with local authors to promote their books on our site as well. Those will be the only new books that you will find on our site. Pop-up hours are in the works. We are also co-hosting an event, Books, Bookmarks, & Bookings with Sandi B in September.

5. Outside of those two offerings, you have some merch on your website as well, like candles, journals and even a bean bag chair. How do you create those items?

Miss Jen’s daughter hand pours all of the candles that we sell on our site. The journals are inspired by memories we have made along our journey and hope to share with others. Currently we have one designed by Miss Jen “Be Authentic” from her trip to Culebra, Puerto Rico where she ventured out to find an abandoned WWII Painted Tank to get the picture to remind us that we can be beautiful wherever we are and that the right people will find and accept us in that very place. Dr. Steph designed “Reflect” from our first trip to Washington D.C. where we were all at a crossroads, and my daughter Cilena is credited with “Dream” the Coachella journal photographed in Indigo, California where she had won an all-expense paid trip from iheartradio to see Eminem headline Coachella. This journal reminds us that dreams can come true for us all!

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6. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned on this journey of entrepreneurship?

MISS JEN: You cannot quit. No matter what. You have to keep going. You have to want it more than anything you have ever wanted before or you will not have what you need to get you through the days where you want to pack it all in and call it a day.

DR. STEPH: It sounds cliche, but the biggest lesson is that we only fail if we don’t try… and that there is a very steep learning curve between knowing that you have a skill or service that someone else needs and being able to market that skill or service in ways that land the deal. Also, that trying to build our dreams in a coworking space is so much more rewarding than sitting in our homes during lockdown!

7. What’s the hardest part about working with family? What’s the best part? 

MISS JEN: They know all of your eyerolls and under the breath comments, and huff and puffs and when you are hangry and they call you out on all of your bullshit.

DR. STEPH: The hardest part about working with family is that every decision we make has the potential to impact our relationship with each other for much longer than this business may last. It is scary to know that you are putting your heart and soul into a project and also prioritize protecting the heart and soul of someone you love and respect.

MISS JEN: The best part? They call you out on all of your bullshit!! They keep you motivated. Sometimes it is not enough to want it for yourself, sometimes wanting it for your family is the motivator. We have learned so much about each other and how we communicate and it has been awesome to learn to appreciate her in a way that her peers in the educational field do. I never get to see the “Professional Dr. Steph” – she is just my sister. It has been amazing to see a whole other side of how amazing she is!

DR. STEPH: The best part is that we have been through so much in our lives that this business is a way for us to create something and become empowered in ways that we could only do with someone who knows where we are coming from.

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8. If you could impart one piece of wisdom to readers, what would it be?

MISS JEN: Focus! Balance is the goal, but do not get distracted from what you truly desire.

Dr. STEPH: Honestly, being a part of a coworking space is a game-changer. Community-building is so closely linked with dream-building and the real success is in relationships (but financial security is nice, too!).

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