Mom builds business on fun and exploration

New family entertainment company Funatorium Explorium Inc. gears up for first event


In Ottawa’s many museums and tourist attractions, marketing expert Leslie Foster had noticed a lack of opportunity for meaningful play between children and parents.

“There’s a lot of ‘look, don’t touch’ and the kids aren’t allowed to really get into things,” said Foster, mother of a “smart” and “silly” 10-year-old son.

So Foster and her husband Dave Whitley decided to fill the void by creating a new family entertainment company – Funatorium Explorium Inc., incorporated in March 2011.

Funatorium Explorium Inc. will hold its first event, Family Extravaganza: Ottawa over the Family Day long weekend, Feb. 18-20, at the new CE Centre.

The three-day event will feature play equipment that includes a magnetic climbing wall, inflatable sumo suits, and a bungee run. Budding circus performers, creative writers and dancers will benefit from professionally-led workshops.

There will also be a marketplace section to display products and services from family-friendly vendors.

“Its whole purpose for being is to create opportunities for parents and kids to play together,” said Foster. “[It] creates that opportunity for the parents to really start to immerse themselves in play with the children.”

Starting a business all about fun has been exciting for Foster’s son Liam, who is thrilled by the prospects of magnetic climbing walls and giant mounds of Lego blocks.

Growing a business from the ground up has also allowed Foster to teach her son important pillars to success. Showing him that if he has an idea he can take the steps to bring it to fruition, she said, teaches him that he has control over his own destiny.

At the same time, Foster incorporates social responsibility into her life lessons by donating a portion of each ticket sale to the charity Free the Children. In this way, she said, she is teaching her son that there are many reasons people get into business.

“Part of the business is teaching him as well that we can create good in the world, we can share our good fortune in the world with others.”

With a background in marketing and a MBA from York University, Foster is no stranger to the business world. The new entrepreneur has fully embraced online and social media forums as marketing tools – something she said has been a “steep learning curve.”

Whether it is a more contemporary form of marketing, or new features for the company’s first event, Foster is open to opportunities to expand her business. Buying some of the equipment for the event, for example, has granted her the opportunity to provide rental services.

While further long-term expansion is being developed, Foster’s immediate goal is to ensure that Funatorium Explorium Inc. becomes “a very well-known and established brand for family entertainment.”

Photos: Funatorium Explorium Inc.