Teacher-preneur to CEO: Cinderella Story of Sharon Duke Estroff, Founder of Challenge Island®, the World's #1 STEAM Education Franchise with Over 100 Locations

18 years ago, Sharon Duke Estroff, Founder and CEO of Challenge Island® STEAM education Franchise, was at the height of her Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde phase. By day, she was an award-winning second-grade teacher with a classroom full of happy, thriving students. By night, she was a stressed-out mom with stretched-thin patience who could barely muster the energy to help her own kids with their homework.

She knew it was time for a career change, but as an educator born into a family of educators, she was afraid to stray too far from the schoolyard. So, she took Challenge Island®, a STEAM program she created for her students, and turned it into a full-time gig. She began offering Challenge Island as an afterschool enrichment class in nearby schools while tutoring on the side to make ends meet. Before long, she had created a profitable home-based business that she could run around her family's busy schedule.

With the popularity of STEM, STEAM, and 21st Century Skills in the educational marketplace, she had a hunch that this business model would work. That hunch was right and today, Challenge Island is the #1 STEAM Franchise in the world and #198 on Entrepreneur® Magazine's Top Global Franchises list. The fast-growing company has been ranked for 3 years straight on Entrepreneur's Franchise 500 and Fastest Growing Lists and show no signs of slowing down – even as they face recent challenges presented by Covid-19. 

Today Challenge Island has over 100 franchises in 32 states and 5 countries, with 8 new franchises being added in Q2 and Q3 or 2020. About half of Challenge Island franchisees are former teachers. Challenge Island partners with 6000 schools and community organizations nationwide and has touched the lives of over 1 million children.

When COVID-19 hit, the educational enrichment market – an $8 billion industry was on the front lines of impact. Within 48 hours of the schools closing in March, Sharon launched Home Island, Challenge Island's virtual alter-ego. By April, Challenge Island was teaching over 2500 kids via Zoom and by June it was named a Top 3 Virtual Camp in the USA by Business Insider.

"Fall 2020 brings new hurdles. But in every challenge exists immense opportunity," says Estroff. "You just have to be open-minded enough to see it and to seize it."

Challenge Island recently launched Social Bubble STEAM Adventures for safely-sized groups of children and their new Imagination Labs which provide Challenge Island's signature STEAM adventures plus supervised e-learning time.

"Challenge Island's icon is the palm tree," says Estroff, "that resilient, flexible, strongly rooted plant that is geared to weather even the most ferocious storms. And when the winds die down, and the other trees our toppled all over the ground, it's the palm tree that is still standing in sun."

For more information about Challenge Island programming and franchise opportunities, contact [email protected] or visit www.challenge-island.com.

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