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Q&A: How Julia Rivard Dexter is adapting to a new normal.

The Co-Founder and CEO of Squiggle Park | Dreamscape shares her strategy and advice.

Julia Rivard Dexter is an innovative tech entrepreneur focused on impact, one of the top 50 Canadian women in STEM, former Olympian, and mother of 4. Julia has founded and led several successful technology ventures, including as CEO of Google’s first North American premier GoogleApps partner. Currently, Julia’s is Co-Founder and CEO of Squiggle Park | Dreamscape which aims to improve literacy rates for children worldwide through a hyper-engaging game platform. In 2019, their digital games for reading won the title of “most innovative education technology” at the Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, Florida. Recently, Rivard Dexter was recognized as “Best-In-Class” Rally Social Enterprise Accelerator. Julia is also a member of the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s, Economic Round Table for the Digital Industries, and a member of the Board of Nova Scotia Power. In this What Now column, Julia shares the importance of online educational resources during the pandemic and the advice she has for businesses struggling with their finances. 


What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus? 

Right now we are focused on diving deep. Since we launched our newest literacy game in January 2019, we have seen rapid growth with millions of users playing. This has given us the opportunity to dig into huge amounts of data to draw insights that help us understand our users more. These insights help us continue to improve how we deliver literacy learning in the most effective, and engaging ways through digital games.

What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?

Kids today will spend 10,000 hours video gaming by the time they graduate high school. This is the same amount of time they will spend in every class over the same period if they have perfect attendance – gaming is not going away. As time spent gaming has increased, kids literacy rates have been on a steady decline, and most kids now report they have no interest in reading at all by the time they are in high school. Given the direct link between reading, and comprehension, and that ability for higher-level reasoning, there are massive impacts to low literacy both individually, and collectively as a society.

Parents eyes have been opened. During the recent COVID-19 crisis, and the overnight shift to homeschooling, parents have become painfully aware of the need for valuable, rigorous ,and engaging online tools for their kids. They are tired of arguing with their kids about screen time, and many have given up, but this is not ok. As parents, and learning guardians, we have to be stewards of the right kind of online activities for our kids, ones that are designed to help them reach their potential in life. We wouldn’t let our kids eat sugar three meals a day, why are we complicit in allowing dozens of hours of unregulated weekly online time.

We help solve this problem by developing games like Dreamscape, which are as fun as the video games kids play to keep them engaged. The difference with our games is the learning engine that delivers each player personalized reading, and comprehension skill development based on the best literacy research, and aligned with the curriculum. Kids love the game, and spend 6x more time reading each week than the average. The added bonus for parents, and teachers is the ability to see the reading time spent in the program dashboards, assign content for kids to work on, and help address specific reading skill gaps that are identified.

Ultimately, we have found a trusted, and effective way to motivate kids to love, and learn. Imagine that…guilt-free screen time!

What has been your most successful solution so far? 

When we launched Dreamscape, a game focused on literacy for kids in grades 3 to 8+ we knew we had something special but we weren’t sure how kids, and teachers would respond. Feedback from both has been so powerful, and we know we have really delivered a program that addresses a real need. Here is an example:

“I used Dreamscape when teaching middle school last year, and now 3rd grade this year. My middle school students who struggled with reading had such an increase in their reading test scores they were removed from reading resources. All my students, at every level, are obsessed with Dreamscape!” Cathleen Fracis, Taylor Ranch Elementary, Grade 3-5 Teacher


Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you will be amazed at how far you can go.


How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees? 

We do everything online. Since we are a digital company this has been a part of our fabric since the beginning. We use the best online collaboration tools to keep meetings engaging, and try to add elements of learning and fun in everything we do. Our mentor program for teachers allows us to connect on a regular basis with hundreds of wonderful educators who provide us with product feedback to help with continuous improvement.

We stay connected to kids through online class visits where the class can provide their candid feedback on the Dreamscape game, and how we can build features they love. We also use this time to bring in team members to share their experience with the kids on how they became game developers, and designers, customer support people, and testers. This is an engaging way to help inspire kids to see different career paths aligned with what they love.

What advice do you have for businesses struggling with their finances? 

We have always tried to be disciplined in our spend, and this is an important piece of advice for all businesses. There is little value in investing in something without understanding the impact it will have on what you are trying to achieve. The other important piece of advice we have followed is how critical it is to truly understand your business model and product-market fit. When you have done both successfully, the feeling is more like riding a wave than pushing a boulder up a hill.

Finally, it is easy to think you need the financing first to drive a sustainable business to achieve your purpose but this thinking is misguided. Instead, if you focus on your purpose to drive a sustainable business, the financing will come much more successfully and from the right sources.

What has surprised you? 

I have been surprised about how much work we have ahead of us to improve our education systems to be successful for all kids.

How far ahead are you planning? 

When we think of the asset of our business, the learning engine, we are thinking 5-7 years ahead. Internally we stay focused on the year ahead, and our planning is broken down into quarterly, monthly, and weekly initiatives to make sure we are all aligned, and achieving initiatives that will help the company win.

What keeps you positive?

Time with my kids keeps me positive. Being able to be focused on what is in front of me gives me a feeling of balance. I also am inspired every day by the team members around me, and feel most positive when I see them achieving something exceptional either personally or professionally because they have been given the environment to succeed at our company. Finally, I love winning, so seeing us achieve the targets we set out to reach is something that feels great. It means we are having a positive impact on improving literacy learning, and building a business that will scale, that is why we do what we do.

What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now? 

Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you will be amazed at how far you can go.