Parent-assisting companies look to grow in Edmonton

· The Pulse

Two startups focused on solving parents' problems are heading into back-to-school season with expansion in mind.

Kid-Drop Inc., a Fort McMurray-based provider of child transportation, just launched its service in Grande Prairie and is looking to Edmonton next. And Birdie Break is gearing up for growth after participating in The Alberta Innovates Revenue Accelerator by GrowthX.

Birdie Break connects parents with sitters via an app built by Punchcard Systems. It is already working to implement the lessons it learned in the accelerator to pursue capital in the near future.

"We're about to do our second small round of $500,000 this fall," co-founder and COO Melanie Swerdan told Taproot. "We're building the parameters around the financial forecasting, we're building that out for growth and scalability now."

Since Swerdan and Cressida Raffin co-founded Birdie Break in Edmonton in 2017, it has spread to eight markets from Victoria to Toronto. The company also offers Birdie Blends, where a sitter devotes part of their shift to educating kids, and Birdie Nests, offering childcare at events such as weddings and corporate gatherings. The Nests are something Swerdan has identified as key to the company's growth — an expanded focus on B2B service.

"We had our biggest month in July. We did four Birdie Nests … We're quite profitable with the Nests," she said. "We're very passionate about them because it's helping to improve attendance at events, especially for women in the workforce."

Birdie Break is also exploring whether it can make its childcare services available as part of employee benefits packages. "It's something we need to build out and really explore and define," said Swerdan.

Part of the experience at the accelerator was building marketing messaging and developing a rebranding, both of which will roll out soon. This new raise, expected to begin in October, is mostly focused on growing the Birdie team, adding a vice-president of marketing, a full-time developer, and additional customer service staff.

"There's probably a list of 15 different features we want to implement into the app, so that's going to require a bit more tech talent," Swerdan said.

Kid-Drop also has accelerator experience. Co-founder and CEO Julieta Miranda took part in the TELUS Community Safety and Wellness Accelerator last year. This gave Miranda a chance to attend SXSW in Texas as part of an Alberta Innovates delegation.

A child with blonde braids and tortoise glasses sit with other children the floor.

Part of child-minding startup Birdie Break's plans for growth include expanding its B2B offerings, including its at-event care service called Birdie Nests. (Supplied)

Miranda, whose background is in criminology and self-taught entrepreneurship, called her accelerator experience "invaluable."

"That 12-week period is what I call a crash course into your MBA, because they touch on everything having to do with business. It opened my eyes into the realm of a successful startup," she said.

The connections she made and the skills she learned helped put Kid-Drop on the path to expansion. Offering the service in Edmonton is in sight, though there's a bit of bureaucracy to navigate first.

"The bylaws are quite different in Edmonton than in Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie. Edmonton is a bit bigger and a bit more intricate," she said. "But we are going to be ready for this year. We just don't know when at this point."

Miranda's sister, Claudia, lives in Edmonton and will head up operations here. The plan is to begin with just one shuttle in Terwillegar to get a foothold.

"It's just really exciting to be able to start a test centre, and to be able to see what kind of interest we get so that we can expand," Claudia told Taproot.

Kid-Drop got a chance to pitch to Dragons' Den, which is heading into its 18th season this fall. The company is also looking into building an app to streamline its service delivery.

Kid-Drop co-founders Julieta Miranda and Josh Kalhofer pose on opposite sides of a promotional banner for Dragons' Den.

Kid-Drop Inc. co-founders Julieta Miranda and Josh Kalhofer pitched to Dragons' Den in May in hopes of making it onto the CBC show this fall. (Supplied)

Lived experience is a big part of why both Birdie and Kid-Drop exist in the first place.

Miranda co-founded Kid-Drop alongside Josh Kalhofer in 2019, not long after going through a divorce while raising two kids. She identified a gap in child transport — not only to and from school, but also between appointments, extracurriculars, and custody exchanges.

"That was probably the biggest leap in first starting Kid-Drop," she said of being a newly single mom. "Divorce is a real thing. It's on the rise. Nobody wants to talk about it, but it's very real, and it affects a lot of children."

As a mom, she saw that work opportunities can be scarce for mothers with kids who are younger than school age. So she only hires mothers to drive for Kid-Drop, partly to create employment and partly because she feels moms are invested in children's safety.

"This allows you to have a healthy work culture," she said. "We all know what it's like when your kid gets sick, and you need to take time off."

Miranda grew up in Edmonton before moving to Fort McMurray. She recognized that much of the city's population comprises transplants who may not have family nearby.

"You don't have the same supports that you would if it was somewhere where you were born, where you have your grandparents or your cousins," she said. "It makes it tricky for families."

Swerdan was inspired to start Birdie Break after observing the challenges of parents close to her and wondering what she would do in the same position.

"The idea originated through watching my sister struggle finding childcare," she said. "I actually don't have children myself yet … I've had a lot of career items on the go, and I'm worried about how hard it will be if I do need a break. How to find someone that's qualified and that's vetted."

As Birdie works on a rebrand, Swerdan wants it to become "a voice for parents" with the goal to reduce the stigma around asking for help.

"We'll be taking studies that have been done from prestigious universities, and supporting parents' decisions to ask for help through statistics. And through letting them know that you're not the only one feeling this way."