COVID-19 has taken away much in everyday life, including our ability to connect with each other. The pandemic has also upended many business models. Both are challenges. As an entrepreneur, Elize Shirdel is dealing with the second by addressing the first. Her Toronto company, HELM Life, has pivoted to find new ways to help people engage with each other for fun.
“Being connected affects your mood, and your long-term well being,” says Shirdel.
At a time of increased and prolonged isolation, HELM Life uses an online platform to bring people together in inventive ways. There are activities for kids, adults and work teams alike. Shirdel’s team provides both the content and the hosts to run events.
For children ages 3-12, that means sessions like games, drawing sessions and junior detective groups. Shirdel likens it to recess time. HELM Life also offers homework support to helps kids stay on track with their school work during these tough times, with a few fun activities mixed in. The site can also deliver experienced tutors to help kids in private one-on-one online sessions.
HELM Life can arrange online events too for adults, to help people laugh together or just stay grounded. Offerings range from improv games, to intro yoga, to mediation and mindfulness.
Work teams can also benefit. A remote-first work culture means no more water cooler conversations, impromptu brainstorming or social events.
“How do you recreate those experiences?” poses Shirdel.
Companies are now using HELM Life to help employees connect, through things like team trivia, virtual escape rooms, and game time.
The impacts of the coronavirus forced Shirdel to re-orient her business proposition. It’s not the first time. Back in 2014, she created Datenight, an app that allowed parents to locate, book and pay a pre-qualified babysitter. Shirdel pitched the idea on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, and received some backing.
Then came HELM in 2018. Through the app, parents could search for registration information for a range of extracurriculars (like ballet and soccer), check available spaces at summer camps, or find listings of public swimming schedules, nearby festivals and family events.
Shirdel described HELM, which stands for Helping Everyday Life Moments, a control panel for your life as a parent. It fit into a movement she called FamTech.
Things have changed. The opportunities for in-person gatherings are obviously limited. But people still crave the human connection, even if it’s through an online entryway.
In the earliest days of COVID, Shirdel recognized the difficulties with maintaining her existing offerings, and also saw a new opportunity. She moved fast. In a matter of weeks, by March 17, HELM Life has launched virtual activities for kids.
Circumstances forced Shirdel to think creatively about her business. But she says it’s vital for any company, any time, to re-examine themselves and evolve.
“One of our strengths is we iterate quickly,” says Shirdel. “Be curious. Be resilient. The world is changing, and this is a drastic change. But it’s always changing. The future is built by companies that go forward and try new ideas.”
Startup Revival Stories is a series of interviews with Canadian entrepreneurs who have pivoted and persevered during COVID-19. Tune in to learn how these founders navigated challenges and found new avenues of growth during the pandemic. You can catch the latest episodes on YouTube or at www.startuprevivalstories.ca.