Mollie Verdier of TheraPals
Meet Mollie Verdier, founder of TheraPals, an online social community dedicated to building friendships and improving skills for children with special needs.
What is TheraPals?
TheraPals is a safe and secure international online social community for children with special needs, their parents, and the professionals that serve them. It’s similar to an adaptive Facebook that meets Match.com where I match kids based on their interests, abilities and disabilities.
Therapals also customizes products and videos to meet the specific learning styles of their client. I reach out to adult and child experts from across the country to create and combine video sessions for those with a special need.
How did you come up with the idea?
As an occupational therapist and mother of five children, I realize that sometimes kids just learn best from other children, especially those with similar abilities. I also recognize the soaring cost of therapeutic services and the decrease in coverage or the parents’ inability to afford traditional therapy for their child, because I too have been in that position.
My goal was to provide an online site that could be a safe haven for those who are looking for a friend who is just like them. A place where they could share life experiences and not feel so alone, while learning skills that will help them become more independent with day-to-day tasks.
What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?
The wide variety of children that are on the site was my biggest surprise. I envisioned children with autism, speech and language disorders, and sensory disorders being the population on TheraPals. But I soon realized that so many children have a need that is not being fulfilled. On TheraPals, there is no criteria that has to be met to be a user. TheraPals is open to any child that is looking for a friend just like them. Whether you are a foster child who moves from home to home, or you wear glasses or have a physical, mental, social or emotional disability. Therapals can help you find a friend going through the same life circumstances.
What does a typical day in your business look like?
A tornado! Just kidding.
I go to work as an occupational therapist in a school district. Throughout the day my husband helps with answering emails. Then after school I usually shoot and edit videos or meet with the companies that manufacture my products. Then I am a mom until bedtime. After that, both my spouse and I hit the computer and respond to emails or upload video sessions for our users onto TheraPals. At least once a week my husband and I will tinker around and bring a new idea of mine to life. That is my favorite part of TheraPals – customizing and inventing!
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Ohio?
The advantage to doing business in Ohio is having so many industries right in your back yard. You can have anything made right here in Dayton, Ohio.
What resources or organizations in Ohio did you take advantage of and how did they help?
Jerry Alexander at the Small Business Development Center
helped me with business planning, Ken Maisch helped me with locating manufacturers for my products, I attended a morning mentoring session at The Entrepreneurs Center
in Dayton, and I used the Chamber Of Commerce to gain access to a variety of opportunities to grow my business in Ohio.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
I would say the most amazing thing that has happened to me as an entrepreneur is receiving emails, letters, and videos from my users thanking me for helping them find friendship.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the children that I serve daily as an occupational therapist and by the child and adult users on TheraPals.com. There is nothing like the feeling I get when I know that my service found a child their first friend.
What founders do you admire and why?
I grew up with six siblings in a farming community. I think early on I admired my father and my uncles for establishing and maintaining the family farm through adverse times. I admire those who are willing to work hard and take a risk for an idea they have so much passion for.
What’s next for you?
I will be launching two products this spring that were created for children with special needs. I have taken the position as the OTA chair on the board of directors for the American Occupational Therapy Association where I will continue to advocate for my profession and for children with special needs. I will continue to improve TheraPals.com and provide an environment where video based learning can thrive.
Interview by Joe Baur