People Spotlight

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Julia Rivard

CEO, SQUIGGLE PARK AND DREAMSCAPE

When I was a child, I had a dream of going to the Olympics. Some people thought I was out of my mind. I was just a kid from North Bay who didn’t stand out as an athlete. Yet, I was determined, and in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, my dream came true. My teammates and I placed ninth in the women’s kayak fours 500 meters event. That’s the power of human potential. Children, when given a hand up and equipped with the right support, can grow up to do anything. Fast-forwarding a decade and a half later, I started Squiggle Park with that driving force in mind.

“Children, when given a hand up and equipped with the right support, can grow up to do anything.”

Squiggle Park is an education platform that offers interactive video games designed to motivate kids to master literacy learning. I co-founded the company after realizing firsthand, as a mother of four, that there’s a real lack of digital literacy-based games that kids actually want to play. With kids spending so many hours playing video games, and on screens in general, I saw this as a huge missed opportunity. If we want to engage kids in learning, we need to provide better digital experiences. The education system is lagging in this area, so we assembled a team to use our energy to help address the problem.

“If we want to engage kids in learning, we need to provide better digital experiences.”

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I guess you could say I’m a serial entrepreneur, though that was never my plan. Before Squiggle Park, I was the CEO of a company that became Canada’s first Google Premier Partner, and one of only 40 partner companies to deploy an app in the launch of Google Apps Marketplace. During this time, I got to fly down to Google’s offices each quarter in Silicon Valley and gain exposure to the incredible value that comes from creating a unique, scalable platform. Before that, I helped run and grow a successful web development company and I founded an incubator and shared workspace for independent creatives.

“I guess you could say I’m a serial entrepreneur, though that was never my plan.”

Along my journey, I’ve always believed in surrounding myself with the brightest minds possible. Where I have a gap in knowledge or experience, I look to others to help me. For this reason, joining the DMZ was an obvious choice. When we started at the DMZ, Squiggle Park was at a crossroads with our business model. We could continue down the path we were on, offering our games as a paid product sold to school boards. This model has proven to be successful, although selling to school boards was slow and challenging. The other option was to pivot our business model and provide our games as a freemium product to everyone, allowing teachers to implement it in their classrooms right away and enabling parents to access it too. The DMZ helped us assess the risks, develop a robust financial model and take the leap to launch a new freemium model with a new game called Dreamscape. I’m happy to say that the results were overwhelmingly positive. Now that our platform is offered on a freemium basis, its user base has exploded well past 1 million users and growing.

“Along my journey, I’ve always believed in surrounding myself with the brightest minds possible. Where I have a gap in knowledge or experience, I look to others to help me.”

I don’t consider myself a typical entrepreneur. More than anything else, I’m driven by impact. I’m driven by the belief that every child holds incredible potential – they just need the skills and support to help them tap into it.