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Renishaki Kamal, well known as Renish, is an Arts and Environment Graduate from the University of Waterloo. Today she is the Founder and CEO of Fidget Toys Ltd., an educational support toy company.
But in September 2013, her final year of university, she was VP Academic for the Arts Students Union at the University of Waterloo advocating for student education. That’s how she became aware of how students' results were affected by both the material they were studying and the environment around them. The first version of her company was born: the Study Bike.
“The project or the idea of the Study Bike was to cater to different learning abilities on campus. I was sketching a lot of ideas, but it was all over the place because I was pitching alongside my engineer friends. I just looked like the crazy person because of the social impact that went along with it. The project and the idea itself wasn’t for the sake of starting my own company.”
She kept pushing forward and researching more into learning environments, addressing the unique challenges children with special needs face and how their environment can help or hinder them.
“At a birthday party is where I started to pay attention to my nephew. He’s non-verbal autistic; falls on the spectrum of very severe autism. Paying attention to his behaviour, he was clapping his hands, kicking his feet in frustration. You know it’s already difficult for people that can verbally communicate to explain ourselves. I can only imagine the frustration that he is going through of trying to ask us for ice cream.”
She had the idea that if he had a toy to place with his feet it would help to distract and relax him to better gain his attention. The Study Bike was too large, she realized, and began refining it to a smaller toy her nephew could carry with him. In 2014, she started pitching her ideas at bootcamps and getting involved in the innovation ecosystem in Kitchener-Waterloo to help refine the business model and learn more about how to build a social enterprise.
“I was very heavy on the social impact of being an advocate or having my company become an advocate for people with special needs and for inclusivity, diversity, and acceptance.”
Shortly after she started pitching she graduated from the University of Waterloo and got a full-time job at the school to help pay the bills while living in Scarborough and commuting back and forth to save money. That same year, she took part in the Women Entrepreneur’s Bootcamp for the first time and made it into the top eight but didn’t take home any prizes.
“That had a lot to do with my own awareness,” says Renish. “You know I couldn’t refine my mindset. I was being challenged in my workplace in a way which kept breaking me down. Where every single hour I knew I wanted to work on this full-time. Every single hour outside of getting work done for my work-work went towards Fidget Toys.”
She went to a fireside pitch night in Kitchener after work one evening. It was the first event she attended where she didn’t know anyone in the room:
“It was the first time I had pitched my idea [to strangers] and I just broke down. Before it was you know, this is just an idea, but this was the first time where I got very emotional talking about my inspiration, my nephew, and the reality kind of hit me in the face: Renish, what is holding you back? And why aren’t you doing this because your nephew is only getting older and he’s not going to wait until you’re stable or whatever it is to launch your toy.”
After an emotional pitch, she was approached by a woman who believed in her and was moved by Renish’s social mission. The two connected a few days later and she ended up becoming Renish’s first mentor and backer.
“She asked me 'what’s holding you back' and I answered: it was myself and finances. I really need to figure out my finances because obviously I’m in student debt. And she said: what if I wrote you a cheque? How much would that cheque look like for you to launch your business? And I didn’t even know what to answer. So she gave me a blank cheque.”
Renish quit her job at the University of Waterloo, spent the year refining her toy idea.
“In 2014, Fidget Toys was still called the theBIKEproject (B-I-K-E: Believing in Kinesthetic Education) but it was far beyond a bike at this point. I really worked on it -- visited door to door and I asked my cousin and her network of families who had kids with special needs. They asked me ‘where can I buy this toy’ because they found the relevancy within their child’s environment and I was coming to understand I was on to something. I was also chatting with experts in the industry who told me: this totally makes sense, it’s so simple. I took that and refined it and theBIKEproject became Fidget”
She enrolled for the 2015 Women Entrepreneur’s Bootcamp and this time she made it to the top three, winning the $25,000 she needed to formally launch the business and incorporate Fidget Toys Ltd. Today they are in production and Renish continues to research how toys can help children with all educational needs learn better.
So, what does Renish love most about running her own company?
“The people. Connecting with people and building relationships is probably the most powerful thing you can do for mankind, but especially when it comes to building a business because you just start off with the idea, then the company gets built by the people. Not just the expertise from your team, I’m talking about the people who are vulnerable with you and honest about their pain points and problem so you can help them fill their need.”