Written by Deena Douara
Toronto parents are busy. Work hours are rarely 9 to 5, traffic is a time-suck and appointments can feel perpetual.
So the newsletters and reports that daycares distribute – well, unless there is a problem, or their child is the focus, those documents are not always priority No. 1.
That’s with the old way of doing things.
HiMama is the new way of doing things. The app, developed for childcare centres and preschools, enhances parent-educator communication with specific and dynamic content, tied back to developmental milestones where relevant.
CEO and co-founder Ron Spreeuwenberg says HiMama’s tablet-based notifications are more immediate (real-time updates), more relevant (information is individualized) and more engaging (photos and checklists are easily shared) than the paper reports parents are used to.
By allowing educators to easily share information and photos throughout the day, Spreeuwenberg says teachers are better appreciated, parents become more engaged, and children benefit from the improved dialogue.
“’Daycare workers’ are often thought of as babysitters, but their role is increasingly understood to be essential to children’s early development,” says Spreeuwenberg. “HiMama showcases all the awesome things educators are doing during the day.”
It’s a meaningful issue for Spreeuwenberg, one that HiMama even blogs about on its website. While the app may have begun as a business proposition that fulfilled a perceived need, Spreeuwenberg says that the more he interviewed early childhood educators, the more he began to view the profession as one that needed greater championing.
“What I’m really proud of and passionate about is getting the word out about the amazing work that ECEs do,” says Spreeuwenberg. “It’s such a hard job and compensation isn’t where it should be. They do it because they really care about the children.”
He believes that when parents begin to see and read more about their child’s development – more info than they could garner from inquiring about their day on the drive home – they develop a respect and appreciation for what’s happening in the classroom and beyond.
Richer detail also leads to greater engagement and, says Spreeuwenberg, better outcomes as a result.
Parents can add their own sharable photos and milestones as well, creating a sort of Facebook for tots and the adults who love them.
HiMama’s thousands of customers are drawn from across Canada with some reach into the U.S. as well. In theory, the company could be based anywhere, but in reality, it’s truly a Toronto creation.
Spreeuwenberg is from Southwestern Ontario but has lived in Waterloo, Ottawa, London, Shanghai, Amsterdam, and Boston (where he graduated from Harvard Business School). Yet he believes the talent in this city is almost unmatched – highly skilled but still affordable, placing greater value on startup potential than corporate stability.
The local tech scene too has been instrumental. HiMama has been a client of MaRS Discovery District, has utilized TDSB’s Next-Steps Employment Centre for hiring staff, and participates in TechTO events.
If it was based elsewhere, Spreeuwenberg says, “I don’t think we would’ve been able to grow as quickly as we have and want to.”
The community has also been invaluable as a support network. While Spreeuwenberg says he is rewarded with daily emails filled with gratitude from parents, being an entrepreneur can be difficult. “There are very few things as challenging as being an entrepreneur…. To have somebody want to pay you for your product or service is very, very hard.”
But he says meeting others, particularly at the three-year-old company’s shared workspace at King West’s BrightLane, is healthy. “They’re going through the same challenges.”
“There’s always someone a step ahead of you.”
While that may be the case, there does not appear to be a Canadian app company a step ahead of HiMama in childcare software– its positive reviews on Capterra outnumber others in the field and make it obvious why parents appreciate it.
“As a working mom who went back to work, leaving my daughter at a daycare was difficult,” reads one review. “But the first time I received an update about what she was doing, made me cry because I could see that she was happy and in great hands.”