She Leads in NW Louisiana
Donesa Walker: A Women-Owned Business Success Story
Donesa was driven to specialize in working with dyslexic students after seeing her sister and brother struggle with it. As both a teacher and dyslexia specialist in the public school system, Donesa was always looking for ways to help her students. During her search, she discovered LearningRX: a suite of programs designed to target and strengthen weak cognitive skills. Convinced it had great promise, she sought permission to integrate the platform into the public school system. She approached her boss and soon to be partner, Dr. Margie Bell, who knew the integration wouldn’t be possible but encouraged Donesa to open her own franchise. Dr. Bell also offered to be her partner for the first three years.
“Margie was close to retirement so she stayed on with the school system during our partnership. However, I had already put in enough time to retire so after over 20 years, I left and opened LearningRX. That was 13 years ago, and I’ve never looked back.”
Donesa confesses that starting out in 2008 was scary. She had never run a business before, and the prospect of leaving a fixed income was nerve-wracking. She was trading stability for the unknown during a time when there wasn’t a lot of financial support available for women-owned businesses, thanks in large part to the economic recession.
Despite her fears and a shoestring budget, Donesa used her passion for education to propel her forward. Within three years, she bought out her partner. Donesa’s center then went on to rank within the top 5 LearningRX centers in the nation, since opening. She employs 18 Internationally Board-Certified cognitive specialist trainers and is a member of the National Association of Cognitive Training.
“One advantage of a female-led company is that people may find us more approachable. The disadvantage is that in some ways there’s still an “old boys club” especially when it comes to financing.”
In running her business, Donesa describes one of the ongoing challenges: even though there’s always a need, people perceive improving their cognitive abilities to be a luxury rather than a necessity.
“There’s a fundamental lack of understanding of brain fitness—it’s as important as body fitness. It’s like if your heart is having trouble you immediately go to the doctor, but if your brain is having trouble, you immediately start trying to find all other excuses for it to be.”
Clients that receive training often maintain their gains without the need for further instruction. There’s a 99% retention rate because they’ve learned HOW to keep themselves mentally fit. This creates the constant need to find new clients. But with a 78% referral rate, the majority of new business comes from client referrals.
The LearningRX program begins with a cognitive assessment that shows how each person’s brain learns, along with their strengths and weaknesses. Then through highly personalized one-on-one training, those weaknesses are converted into strengths. The training works for children with dyslexia, but the multi-sensory activities also address many brain-related issues making it effective for ADHD, dementia, and general age and environmental factors.
Surprisingly, the impact of COVID has had a silver lining. Already in the process of developing an online training option, the shut down accelerated their efforts. The online trainings have gone so well that they intend to keep virtual sessions as part of their ongoing service offering.
“We had to close for two months during the state-wide shutdown, but we didn’t lose too many customers because we were able to transition them to online sessions and in fact, we even gained some customers from the online offerings.”
Donesa has not forgotten the initial struggles of starting a business. Over the years, she’s mentored several other women in launching their own business, including Bevin Hicks of Lola magazine, and Sarah, a former trainer that left the area but recently moved back and has a franchise, Fit for Moms.
“It’s such a confusing time, so I try to help them through the maze from finding their niche to tapping resources and financing.”
Her advice to anyone just starting their own business?
“Hire what you don’t know and enjoy working in the areas of your passion. In the areas that are difficult for you, learn what you can, but hire and trust those that excel in the areas you don’t.”
That’s why Donesa believes strongly in teams.
“There’s no “I” in teams and there’s a lot of empowerment. I have ideas and sometimes they aren’t workable or they need fleshing out. My admin team and I meet every Monday to discuss concerns and ideas as well as how to implement them.”
Through risk, reward, and embarking into the unknown, Donesa’s work has made a huge impact in Shreveport and shows how touching one life can change many.
“Locally, we’ve had over 1,200 graduates—that’s a lot of happy families.”
LearningRx is a one-on-one brain training center that pairs clients with brain trainers for challenging yet fun mental games that help enhance cognitive skills. The LearningRX franchise company was founded by Dr. Ken Gibson in 2002 and has been led by his daughter, Kim Hanson, as CEO since 2017.
Location: Shreveport, Louisiana