After two decades as a speech-language pathologist, a Coldstream mom has started a new chapter of helping kids.
Karen Richard calls herself an unapologetic kidlit fanatic, dog lover and neuro-nerd. But essentially she is a mom, a partner and a startup founder.
Now she is one of the top five Total Moms in Canada.
She is one of thousands of women who initially made the top 100 in Canada’s Total Mom Pitch, which helps mothers who are starting new businesses.
So is Salmon Arm’s Crystal Wood and her flower delivery business U Grow Girl, which in turn empower survivors of sexual abuse with a healing retreat.
After almost 20 years in a drastically different job, Richard has created Made Live - an AI-powered picture book publishing business.
Both of the local ladies will be judged in the finale May 30.
For Richard, the journey to her new venture brought her family to Vernon in 2018.
“We were restless and unsatisfied with where we were living and desperate for a change. Desperate enough to sell our house and almost everything we owned, buy a used RV, and hit the road with our then three-and-a-half-year-old for nine months to figure out where we wanted to move,” said Richard. “We really wanted a smaller city in B.C. and someone suggested Vernon, even suggesting a job opening in the area. The rest fell in place almost too easily! Applied for the job the next day, interviewed a few days later, followed by a quick job offer and two-week haul from Southern California to get here and get started.”
She spent the better part of her pathologist career reading books about neurology, behaviour and business, for fun (cue neuro-nerd).
“So it’s not a huge surprise I ended up where I am now.”
She loved using books in her sessions with kids and families.
“I loved teaching anyone who would listen about the value of books, different types of children’s books, and how they could be used to work with children and help develop early language skills. So I always secretly wanted to write and publish kids’ books.”
Being born in Saskatchewan, Richard feels lucky to have stumbled upon Vernon.
“The weather is a definite plus and I have regular ‘pinch me’ moments when I catch a view of Kal Lake or head out for a walk in the park.”
In early 2020, she told her husband (now also co-founder) that she wanted to write a series of books, each highlighting a specific language development strategy.
“Knowing how many families were waiting for services, I saw it as a way to help those families who wanted to do whatever they could to help develop their child’s language skills.”
Despite the fact that she saw it as a great publishing opportunity for a huge market, it was too “niche” for publishers.
So she looked into self-publishing.
“Jesse, my husband, and I started developing dozens of ideas, creating an entire magical, neurodiverse, magical world of story ideas we dubbed ‘Coldstream Tales.’ We found an artist whose work we loved. I wrote. We researched. We were ready to publish it.”
Then COVID hit.
“Printers shut down. Supply chains were messed up. So we went digital, releasing an animated ebook version of our first story. We even sold some copies!”
But the whole process was too slow for what they wanted to achieve.
“Luckily, I married a computer programmer. So we set out to make our own way to do publish faster and easier, which we initially intended for our own use. But after joining the Venture Accelerator Program offered by Accelerate Okanagan, it quickly became obvious that what we were building could have a way bigger impact in publishing if we made it available to others in the same boat.”
Two years, thousands of hours, and a lot of iterations later, Made Live is getting ready to launch to the public this summer - meaning anyone with an idea and the drive to write and publish a children’s book can do it faster, easier, and all in one place.
“Made Live is the only AI-driven end-to-end publishing platform created specifically for picture books and we cannot wait to see the amazing books our users create,” said Richard, adding there is currently free access on the site at https://made.live.
Making into the top five of Total Mom has an incredibly validating and exhilarating for Richard.
“Starting a business was hard, especially during the pandemic. Managing work. Parenting. A late-in-life ADHD diagnosis.
“Honestly - I feel seen. Honoured. I’ve had consistent encouragement and praise from my family, but this feels different. Huge. I’m excited for the connections and opportunities this is opening up for me and Made Live, helping us on our mission to put the control back in the hands of authors and give diverse voices the platform they deserve.”
She applauds all the other founders who made it to the top 100.
“I’ve never been connected to such a beautiful mix of passionate and supportive women in my life. They are all doing incredible things and I encourage everyone to check them out, and their businesses, on the Total Mom Pitch blog. Every single one of them deserves to be recognized for what they’re doing.”