Kids Innovative founder Hillina Ghulam Nabi is a quintessential Canadian success story. Born in war-torn Afghanistan, she fled with her family to Russia where life was precarious for her family and others like them. Ghulam Nabi’s father taught English to his fellow immigrant families until he was able to scrape enough money together to bring his family to Canada where they settled permanently. Ghulam Nabi learned early how powerful education can be, and she was determined to do what she could to make education available for as many children as possible.

In the fall of 2019, Ghulam Nabi was able to make her dream into a reality when she launched her start-up Kids Innovative in Vancouver, Canada. The company’s mission is to teach children the skills they’ll need in the workforce of the future. They offer hands-on classes in computer coding and building hardware for kids of all ages that are designed to be fun and engaging. Kids Innovative was soon a big hit with parents and kids alike. Ghulam Nabi was well on their way to having a successful first year in business with summer camps on the horizon when COVID-19 hit in Canada. Suddenly everything she’d built was threatened with collapse.

Transitioning to online

Like many companies affected by the pandemic, Ghulam Nabi decided the best solution for her company was to go online but doing so presented a lot of obstacles. “The transition phase was very difficult for us,” she says. “We were in schools and community centres, physical locations where we were teaching about hardware and software programming. We had to completely remodel our strategy to make sure our online courses were useful and that the kids would enjoy it. They already are facing homework from school, and we realized they may not want to do more classwork.”

The Kids Innovative team quickly tested platforms they could use to deliver their programming online. At the time, families and children weren’t used to using programs like Zoom and so developing online courses that were fun and engaging was a challenge. Ghulam Nabi decided that courses should continue to be offered live and be highly interactive, and her dedication to her students has paid off. Many of Kids Innovative’s existing students moved online with the company and other new students have since joined in. Kids Innovative also teamed up with PoMoArts, a community arts hub, to offer online summer coding camps for children 7 to 13.

Learning from the community

Ghulam Nabi credits fellow young entrepreneurs in the Futurpreneur network for helping her think about innovative ways to tackle the crisis as it was unfolding. She belongs to the Slack channel where Futurpreneur-supported entrepreneurs help each other solve problems they’re facing. “The Futurpreneur community has been really helpful,” she says. “Other businesses like mine are having the same struggles, so I don’t feel alone all the time. Before I joined the Slack group, I did feel like I was alone in all of this. I can go to my family and my colleagues, but they don’t necessarily understand what I’m going through.”

One idea that Ghulam Nabi picked up from the group was to offer a freemium product as part of her online course schedule. “I didn’t really know what freemium was or how it worked, but I realized it’s a perfect strategy where we offer free workshops that we’re currently doing.” The offering, called From Scratch, is a free one-hour workshop that introduces basic coding to children in certain age groups. If they like the course, they can sign up for the paid 5-week course.

Moving forward

While moving to an online format has been challenging for Kids Innovative, it has opened new possibilities for Ghulam Nabi. The free workshops sell out very quickly and introduce children to interactive and engaging activities that teach the very basics of coding. The Kids Innovative website also features a hall of fame that showcases some of the work done by students. Building an online platform had already been part of her long-term planning, but the pandemic accelerated the plan.  Ghulam Nabi is also focusing on marketing and developing engaging content for the new platform while she looks forward to a busy summer teaching online camps offered through PoMoArts.

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