Checkmate: Chess is key to success for Fairfax business
While many people enjoy a good game of chess, few people ever dream of making it their profession. But that’s exactly what Adam Weissbarth, founder of Silver Knights Enrichment, did. “I always loved playing chess,” Adam explains. “In 2004 when I was a graduate student in statistics in Seattle, I began coaching chess at a local elementary school. I not only enjoyed the coaching, but I quickly realized, once I saw the flyer and did some quick math, that I could be teaching and administering the class, too,” Adam adds.
Adam began intensive market research to find out what parts of the country would be best suited to supporting an after-school chess-enrichment program. The research took Adam from Arizona to Philadelphia and ultimately to Fairfax, where Adam connected with the Mason SBDC and Director Timm Johnson. “Timm is always available to help me figure out if an idea is good or not,” Adam says.
Today, Silver Knights Enrichment teaches students in approximately 300 schools. In addition to chess, they offer coding and LEGO robotics, and have a staff of over 100 chess and STEM instructors throughout the DMV area. This growth partly resulted from the assistance of Timm and the Mason SBDC team. The SBDC team actively works with Adam in recruiting qualified chess and STEM coaches, plus they also help deal with the HR intricacies involved with such a large, remote, contract staff.
Adam has developed a robust quality-control process for all instructors that involves plenty of feedback between instructors and office staff. “The quality of the classes we offer is probably the most important thing to us,” Adam says. “We are really bothered if something doesn’t go right with a class. We’ve worked hard to develop a detailed check-in process for the coaches to make sure we maintain the highest level of quality.”
Timm and the Mason SBDC team recently helped Adam acquire Enrichment Matters, a company that assists Adam with handling the administrative back-end of holding classes in such a large number of schools. Although acquiring a new company has not been without challenges, Silver Knights Enrichment has experienced phenomenal growth since coming to Virginia — surging from 44 jobs in 2013 to 290 in 2019 and over 700% in sales growth in the same period.
Despite his background in statistics, when Adam looks at Silver Knights Enrichment, he doesn’t see numbers. “I’m a math and chess nerd who also loves kids,” Adam says. “We have people who were students in our classes who are now aids and coaches. Watching people get new skills and confidence is what I love the most about what I do.”