For Kidunified founder Ashley Kizis, children need representation in play. Based in Guelph, Ontario, Kidunified is a women-led social enterprise making puzzles that reflect the communities children live in. For Ashley, engaging children in play that better depicts social identities – such as gender, persons with disabilities, race and ethnicity – is how she chooses to give back to her community. Ashley states, “there is a lot of value for all children in seeing everyone being a part of something and working together and belonging.” She’s also working to give back to the upcoming generation, because, as she says, “I think it’s important to familiarize these children with all that make them unique from the start.”
Ashley’s motivation for her business idea was her own child. She wanted them to have more tools, toys, and resources that better depicted a wider range of representations of our society. As she says, “it seems like many of the toys I would come across were very dated, and so there is a need for products like this, including bilingual ones, as Kidunified’s debut puzzle is.”
Not only is Ashley helping to pave the way for inclusive products for children, but she prioritized sustainability and the circular economy when creating her puzzle. Besides being the only children’s paper-board puzzle maker in Canada, Kidunified’s puzzle and paper products are made from 100% recycled materials. Wanting the product to be as sustainable as possible, the puzzle pieces themselves come in a reusable cloth bag, to reduce waste.
Entrepreneurship as a Learning Tool
In addition to creating a sustainable and socially inclusive product for kids, part of the reason why Ashley decided to launch Kidunified was her desire to learn. “It takes a lot to be a founder of a new company,” she says, “lots of challenges that come your way every day.” This hasn’t deterred her however, as she remarks, “there’s also a lot of learning involved, so if you’re someone who loves to learn, you will thrive.”
Part of Ashley’s learning journey was helped by Rhyze Ventures. One of her biggest takeaways from the program was Rhyze Ventures provided her mentorship support for navigating social media. “Working with a social media consultant was very valuable to me,” she says, “so that I could get over the fear of putting myself and Kidunified online as a business.” This was especially important to Kidunified’s success as one of the biggest obstacles it faced was publicity for the puzzle. “Our greatest challenge,” she explains, “is spreading the word and ensuring that people know about us, that carers and educators know about us, and that there’s the opportunity to have a resource like this for their children.”
When asked what she’s learned about the entrepreneurial experience through Rhyze Ventures she says, “for people looking to support entrepreneurs – their follows, their likes, and their comments on social channels– it means so much and they go a very long way.” If people are going to have one takeaway from her journey, she’d like it to be for people to support small businesses. She says, “even if it’s not something you would typically be interested in, share it with someone who might be.” As she celebrates the launch of her product, Ashley reflected on the benefits of participating in the Rhyze Ventures program by saying, “the program administrators are very helpful and very responsive. It’s very encouraging to meet other mentees in the program and women-led businesses.” Just like her puzzle, representation matters, and the Rhyze Ventures program allowed her to see other women represented and supported in the business community.