Child’s Play Challenge Courses, whose COO Lauren Borawski is crushing fun-fitness entrepreneurship because she doubled down during a pandemic that could have easily crushed her business, has been named the 2023 U.S. Small Business Administration’s New Jersey Business of the Year.
Launched in 2015 by Borawski and her husband, Matthew, Child’s Play Challenge Courses is an NJBIA member committed to keeping children and adults of all ages and abilities “healthy, active and unplugged” by bringing fun obstacle courses to birthday parties, festivals, corporate events, school aftercare programs, summer camps and other indoor and outdoor sites.
But the pandemic was one obstacle they had not counted on.
“Yes, it was scary,” said Borawski of the early months of the pandemic when nonessential businesses, public events, private parties, classes, and after-school programs were shut down. “It’s hard to run a business that relies on social gatherings and shared equipment when a pandemic strikes. We had to pivot. We had to find new ways to stay relevant and keep pivoting because it was important not to let the mission fail.”
The first tweak to the business model was the “chalk challenge,” an idea that sprang from the Borawskis’ concern about all the children whose birthday parties had been cancelled by the pandemic. Although they could not deliver 3-D obstacle course items to clients in those early pandemic months, the Borawskis instead created 2-D templates and used chalk powder and a spray gun to create hands-free chalk challenge courses on the birthday child’s driveway and sidewalks.
“People loved it,” Borawski said. “We did it for free for children whose parties had been cancelled but then as the word got around, new clients were calling with chalk challenge requests, so we had to charge a small amount only to cover the cost of the materials.”
Their Scotch Plains-based company drew the attention of WCBS 880’s “Small Business Comeback Tour” and the publicity put them on the radar of even more potential clients. As pandemic restrictions eased in the months that followed, they found expanded opportunities delivering 3-D obstacle courses to summer camp programs. Although children were wearing masks and socially distancing at the camps, the directors were leery about taking campers off site to visit popular entertainment destinations. Child’s Play Challenge Courses expanded its presence in this market by bringing sanitized obstacle equipment directly to the summer camps, allowing children to have fun while remaining safe on site.
Schools took longer to physically reopen, and teachers held virtual classes that children logged into from their homes, leaving working parents to juggle work schedules. A common solution was to have one parent care for a small “learning pod” of students inside different homes so that alternating parents in that friend group could work. Child’s Play Course Challenges found a new niche bringing backyard obstacles that gave these small groups of children outdoor exercise in between their virtual classes.
“Instead of doing one class a day at an afterschool program in a school setting, we were doing 16 a week at parents’ homes wherever these small groups of children were,” Borawski said. “Matt was constantly traveling from one backyard to the next. We were busier than ever.”
Child’s Play Challenge Courses evolved beyond children’s events by expanding in an even broader market that includes corporate team-building events and retreats. More than 200,000 friends, family members, co-workers, and others in seven states have enjoyed the multi-faceted obstacle courses and the business has quadrupled.
Borawski said the business has grown so well, in fact, that she and her husband have been working with a franchising consultant to market this business opportunity throughout the country.
The SBA will honor Borawski and the winning entrepreneurs from the 49 other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, during the National Small Business Week awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., April 30 and May 1.
SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said one business owner from the group of state winners will then be chosen as the 2023 National Small Business Person of the Year.
“Our 2023 State Small Business Persons of the Year have given their all to achieve their American dream — to own and build a strong, resilient business; create jobs; increase competition and innovation and power America’s historic economic recovery,” Guzman said. “These incredible entrepreneurs show the vibrancy and grit of our nation’s small businesses.”