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Sylvan Learning Summit Speaker Elizabeth Samartzis on How the Brand Had Her Back During the COVID-19 Crisis

After 20 years in corporate America, Elizabeth Samartzis was ready to forge her own path. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, she knew she’d made the right choice based on the support she received from Sylvan.

Being shut down by governor’s orders three months into setting up shop is no business owner's idea of an easy start, but for Elizabeth Samartzis, a franchisee with supplemental and enrichment education brand Sylvan Learning, the experience ultimately convinced her she made the right choice.

That’s because Sylvan, with 40+ years in the business and 750 points of presence, provides unparalleled support and care for the new franchisees it welcomes, even during a pandemic.

“I spent over 20 years in corporate America,” she said at Sylvan Learning’s online summit. “I was ready for a change. Life was crazy with kids and a husband who was also working a very busy, fast-paced job. I just needed something with a little more flexibility and I wanted to be a little more in control of the money I was able to make with the effort I was putting in.”

Her story echoes hundreds of Americans who found Sylvan Learning after other careers. For Samartzis, Sylvan offered the opportunity to provide her community with something she knew it desperately needed: educational support.  

“Sylvan was top of mind for us because of our children and the experiences we had with them,” said Samartzis. “Supplemental education services were something there was a big need for. When you’re a parent, you know how important education is.”

Like millions of families, the Samartzises had done their best to educate their children, but it’s all too easy for them to fall behind in overcrowded classrooms in underfunded schools.

“We’re all putting forth our best effort to make sure our children are educated and get the most out of this time in their life because we know it’s foundational to the rest of their lives,” she said. 

“Even as a parent putting forth that effort, it’s easy for kids to fall behind, and I know my kids have fallen behind, too.”

But even with the clarity of vision to provide families critical support and set kids up for success, the Samartzis family is human after all, and they were anxious about starting a business.

“I was completely nervous. I was a wreck,” she said. “You have to be a little bit of a risk-taker to go out and invest your money and start up something from scratch like this.”

Therein lies the beauty of a franchise system. She stood to gain all the benefits of owning a business but didn’t have to go through costly trial and error stages. Sylvan’s proven model of profitable educational excellence presented the perfect level of risk for even a conservative family. 

“My husband and I had different levels of risk tolerance,” she said. “He was a bit more into taking a risk, and I was a bit less. The franchise model is a nice happy medium. It’s a bit of a business in a box. That helped me with the nervousness in terms of taking on this unknown.”

So the family set out to bring Sylvan to their local community. After three months of operating, the CDC declared a pandemic and state leaders began lockdowns that shut down her business. 

“I bought this business in January of 2020,” she said. “I had three months with it before I had to shut it down. That was the worst thing ever to happen to a new business owner. That said, we’ve not only gotten through it, but thrived. I think there’s a bigger and greater need than ever for Sylvan.”

But it wasn’t just businesses that were shut down, schools had to close their doors, as well. Now, as school children struggle to adapt to distance learning, Samartzis says Sylvan’s offerings have become more important than ever. Her instincts as a dedicated parent led her to believe that the need for education support wasn’t going anywhere. 

At the same time, Sylvan’s corporate office worked around the clock in March to roll out virtual teaching over the course of a single weekend. The brand has continued to innovate and offer a new blend of online, in-person, and satellite location learning opportunities as lockdown restrictions and safety best practices evolve.

“Even though wallets are still a little bit tight, we’re going to see the ramifications of this year in education for years to come,” she said. “So it really kind of has validated that this was a good decision. If we can get through 2020, we can get through everything.”

Studies have validated Samartzis’ instincts too. Today, students in New Orleans who missed out on a year of school after Hurricane Katrina still carry the ill effects of missing classes. Now, Samartzis feels parents have learned the value of education and will be willing to spend on it. 

“As a parent, even when money is tight, education is one of the things I'm willing to spend on,” she said. “That makes this business just a little more recession-proof than a lot of other opportunities out there.”

Importantly, Samartzis didn’t face the pandemic alone. As one of the hundreds of Sylvan Learning franchisees, she had the brand’s entire corporate power and expertise behind her, as well as a community of fellow franchisees. 

“As a business owner, I could not have felt more supported by Sylvan’s corporate office during the craziness of this year,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for more. They went above and beyond to try to help us in any way possible. They helped us get tech in place to support students and families virtually. They helped us think through every little piece of this. That was really comforting to someone who is new to being an entrepreneur.”

The pandemic hasn’t let up, and it’s been tough on many Americans, but with Sylvan, Samartzis feels comfort in knowing at least she’s facing it with people she believes in. 

“Educators are passionate people, they have stuck with me through the ups and downs of this year. The corporate support has really exceeded my expectations,” she said. “There's training all the time. They have a whole university of training videos. Really, it’s definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of what I thought I was buying.”

View Samartzis’ video here:

The startup costs for a Sylvan Learning franchise range from $70,270 to $163,625. The franchise fee is $24,000. To learn more about franchising with Sylvan Learning, visit

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.