Business Ideas for the Booming SEL Market

8 min read • Aug 21, 2021 • Katherine O'Malley

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is finally getting the attention it needs. An essential skill in children and adults, recent events—the pandemic, racial unrest, and increased screen time—have pushed it to the forefront for educators, parents, and even employers.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) says, “SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

And it’s definitely a growth market projected to increase from $1.2 billion in 2019 to $3.7 billion by 2024. Any industry that’ll more than double in size is an opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Let’s take a look at what’s driving the growth of the SEL market and what that means for small business possibilities in the industry.

Why Is SEL Important?

SEL skills, similar to math or reading skills, don’t just happen. They need to be taught, modeled, and practiced regularly for both children and adults.

SEL core competencies include:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision-making

Casel SEL Framework

Source: “CASEL’s SEL Framework,” CASEL.

Looking at those competencies, it seems like we might have all benefited from SEL training before the pandemic-related lockdowns.

That said, there is a need to teach or boost those skills as children transition back into physical or hybrid school models. Distance learning was a survival mode for parents, students, and teachers. Thus, SEL skills were among the skill sets that took a hit.

Kids need to be taught or reminded how to build relationships and relate to other people in person as there is no more video-off option. There aren’t firm guidelines on what constitutes “too much” screen time for children’s mental health. But it must impact them—after all, adults routinely suffer from Zoom fatigue. It’s time to help kids reset their brains for in-person and potentially maskless interactions.

SEL skills also set the foundation for additional learning. As Deb Meyer, a professor of education at Elmhurst University, says, “Academic goals cannot be fully achieved without social emotional knowledge and skills.”

That’s critical, given that many students are believed to have a learning deficit after a year or more of virtual learning. According to a Horace Mann Educators Corporation survey, respondents believe 85% of their students will have at least 1 month or more of academic progress to regain.

Assessment of impact on learning due to COVID-19

Source: “Closing the Learning Gap,” Horace Mann.

Who Needs Ongoing SEL Training?

The short answer to who could benefit from SEL training? Everyone.

This year wasn’t typical, so both adults and children could benefit from refresher courses on using SEL skills in day-to-day life. Like any other skill—CPR, martial arts, communication—SEL skills should be periodically reassessed to ensure bad habits haven’t replaced good intentions.

Let’s review children’s needs first. SEL programs may not have been strong in school systems before the pandemic. Still, virtual learning, as mentioned above, definitely left a significant gap in that training.

As kids return to school, they need coaching and supervision to learn and practice their SEL skills. As Ms. Meyers says, “When left to their choices, students do not always benefit from partner or group work because they do not know how to interact effectively.” In other words, we can’t expect them to magically demonstrate the same level of SEL competencies that they may have had a year ago.

Similarly, EducationWeek advocated that SEL skills need to be emphasized as “Children can’t process and retain new information if their brains are overwhelmed with anxiety.” Returning to school is a welcome change for many children, but it’s a transition that will be stressful, even if it’s joyful. There’ll be similarities to remote employees who have to return to the office. Suddenly, there’s commute time, mandated lunchtimes, and no dog to pet when you need a break.

Adults could also benefit from routine SEL training. Employers value workers with solid SEL skills. Those competencies permit employees to demonstrate the “soft skills” needed in the business world. As we all recover from various pandemic-related griefs, employers would do well to include SEL training as part of their workplace education offerings.

Business Opportunities in the SEL Market

Given the tremendous importance of SEL skills and the market’s projected growth, plenty of business opportunities in this area target educators, families, or communities.

Business opportunities include:

  • Join the ranks of e-learning businesses by creating content or administering e-learning that is focused on SEL training.
  • Create an app. Some popular apps include SuperBetter and Calm, but there’s always room for another app on the market.
  • Provide tutoring services focused on building SEL skills.
  • If you have knowledge in the AI field, invent new ways to use AI in SEL learning.
  • Build lesson plans or learning curriculums for teachers.
  • Offer SEL-focused community services, including after-school programs or family workshops.
  • Provide SEL-related employee training to other businesses. Perhaps it could support a business’s mental health coverage benefit to promote positive mental health.
  • Start a consulting business to help schools or businesses evaluate SEL offerings and program effectiveness.

Tips for an SEL-related Business

Fundamentally, starting an education-related business includes the same steps as any other industry—know your customers, perform a SWOT analysis, create a business plan, and find and secure funding. But you’ll also have to navigate some education-specific items such as figuring out school calendars and adhering to student-related policies (e.g., FERPA).

As you pitch your business idea, remember to use your own SEL skills, including relationship-building and social awareness. The pandemic is fueling the growth of the SEL market. Speak from the heart about how your product or service can help—you don’t want to be viewed as taking advantage of a bad situation.

If you have a unique idea and are ready to launch your new business, a startup business loan can give you the capital you need. But don’t forget that there may also be opportunities to buy a franchise or an existing small business that already has a foothold in the SEL market. 

Whichever path you choose, know that you are providing a solution that could have a positive long-term impact on your customer’s lives.

Katherine O'Malley

Katherine O'Malley is a contributor to the Lendio blog. A technology geek at heart, she splits her time between traveling, freelance writing, database administration work, and implementing SEO on her travel blog. In her free time, she loves to research the challenges small-to-midsize tourist suppliers face and find ways that technology can help them out.