“I thought that being an entrepreneur was a roller coaster, but being an entrepreneur during COVID-19 is that roller coaster times a thousand!”
Over these last few months, with the shutdown of most schools and accelerated transition towards remote work, children around the world have been experiencing the fun and not-so-fun aspects of long days spent at home. But within that context, many children with special needs have lost access to the additional support they need and usually receive in their classrooms, at home, or in after-school programs.
Founded in 2006, Déclic is a Quebec-based team of psychoeducators who usually accompany and support hundreds of those kids in person through activities that foster collaboration, playfulness and inclusivity. So when they could no longer enter their physical support spaces due to COVID-19, they had to quickly adapt, speed up their digital transformation, and find new ways of reaching people online.
The morning of March 14, 2020, was a rude awakening for Cadleen Désir and her team. On that day, the government announced that all non-essential services had to close up shop for an unknown amount of time. As it turns out, Déclic’s support services were considered non-essential, which meant their activities would be brought to an abrupt halt. Overnight, their entire staff was temporarily dismissed and the company’s enviable 35% growth rate collapsed.
“I thought it was just a bad dream when I opened my eyes that day. But it wasn’t. Suddenly, we became a non-essential service and this label, when our mission seemed so tremendously important, was very difficult to process. But still, I was all set. I was ready to fight to save our cause and adapt our offer.”
The entrepreneur asked herself how the company that she built over 15 years could survive and continue serving the more than 2,000 youngsters already on its roster – let alone the numerous kids on the waitlist.
Their answer: a virtual clinic, which they launched within a few weeks – no small feat given that their digital transformation had initially been planned for 2022. Though rattled by the unexpected turnaround, the team stayed tightly knit by planning weekly meetings to check in on the troops’ morale and troubleshoot their issues as quickly as possible.
Strategic planning also moved up a gear. Action plans drafted to span over several years were suddenly reviewed in a matter of weeks, even days.
“We told ourselves that maybe we can’t welcome children at our clinics anymore, but nothing stops us from (digitally) going to them in their own homes. We adjusted our attitude by admitting that the time to prove our agility was now or never, and that opportunities were meant to be seized.”
Just three months after the virtual clinic’s opening, Cadleen Désir is contemplating some well-deserved time off: “Déclic needs a short break to absorb this new reality. We transformed our work culture, but we haven’t made it entirely ours yet.”
Although the clinic was presented as an emergency lifeline, it proved to be a great springboard for new markets. The services are now offered to children across Quebec, even in remote places where special educational services are often scarce.
According to Cadleen, it’s Déclic’s transparency-infused culture that allowed the team to navigate the tumultuous seas of change. As she looks ahead, she advises other entrepreneurs to dare being vulnerable, to be agile across different roles and responsibilities, to foster inclusion, and to cultivate a very intimate relationship with their cash flow. Last but not least, though, she insists that the stress of the unforeseen – although painful – is almost always fertile ground for unexpected opportunities.