Navarre Montessori Academy

Along the balmy Florida panhandle coast, a passionate educator with roots in Puerto Rico, embarked on a remarkable journey that would transform her love for teaching into a thriving business endeavor.

Kiani Richardson’s brainchild, the Navarre Montessori Academy, stands today as a beacon of educational excellence, bilingualism, and empowerment.

Kiani’s adventure began with a vision founded based on her upbringing and the principles of unique and impactful Montessori education. Drawing from her Puerto Rican heritage, where the value of bilingualism was instilled from an early age, she envisioned a school where children could flourish in an environment that nurtured both their academic growth and identity.

However, the road from vision to reality wasn’t without its challenges. It took Kiani two and a half years of relentless dedication to navigate the certification process for her Montessori school. Yet, committed, and guided by her belief in the transformative power of education, she pressed on.

One of the pivotal moments for Kiani’s entrepreneurship in education and childcare came when she crossed paths with John Emsing, Assistant Director at the Florida SBDC at UWF. With John’s guidance, decision-making — once a more daunting task for her — became a much more streamlined process. Through the support of the SBDC and a loan secured via the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Kiani was able to not only sustain her business but also enable its expansion.

As Navarre Montessori Academy extended its capabilities, serving children up to the third grade and offering the state’s pre-kindergarten program, Kiani remained dedicated to providing a nurturing and enriching environment for her students. She recognized the immense potential of Spanish immersion in early childhood education, tapping into the special abilities of children to make connections and thrive in a bilingual setting.

With each new age group added to the curriculum and each milestone surpassed, Kiani found herself not only as a teacher and business owner but also as a mentor and leader. Her path from uncertainty to mentorship serves as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs and educators alike.

Reflecting on her trek, Kiani acknowledges the support of her community families, resources, and the invaluable partnerships forged along the way. From her local collaboration with the SBDC and Navarre Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to assistance provided by The Business & Leadership Institute for Early Learning and Wells Fargo, Kiani’s success story is also a testament to the power of collaborating and community-driven initiatives.

“It was kind of like walking with my eyes closed,” Kiani says of opening her own business, until she met resource partners like the SBDC. “So when I found the SBDC, I was like oh, somebody else knows about business. Somebody else knows what I have to do … When I met with John, I was like, yes, I have to do this. He reassured me, knew the things I needed to be doing to grow a business and be where I wanted to be.

“I believe the SBDC helped me make the right choice at the right time. The SBDC helped me with the business plan. The SBDC helped me with the budgeting and helped me find a lender, and actually use that lender. And helped me find an SBA loan, which we used to grow the business. The SBDC helped me be confident in my business.”

Today, Kiani says she definitely sees her business growth but additionally the countless lives touched by Navarre Montessori Academy. Through her indominable spirit and pursuit of excellence, Kiani Richardson is realizing her dream and becoming a guiding light for others. Kiani now mentors for a new group of small business childcare entrepreneurs as part of a regional initiative addressing the childcare shortage in Northwest Florida.

“The community needed something,” Kiani shares of weighing the need for her business amongst families in the area. “They’re looking for something to help their children be happy, then learn and grow … We expect them to be happy and kind … We think when a child is happy, they are eager to learn.”

As this woman- and minority-owned business continues to lead, inspire, and be a solution, Kiani’s legacy of educational innovation and community empowerment will endure for generations to come.

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I believe the SBDC helped me make the right choice at the right time. The SBDC helped me be confident in my business.”

Kiani Richardson, Owner & Director — Navarre Montessori Academy