Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Alley Dezenhouse Kelner, Co-Founder and Clinical Director of Magnificent Minds Inc., located in Toronto, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Magnificent Minds Inc. is a therapeutic provider and private school for neurodivergent students aged 4-12 years and the families supporting them. We offer multi-disciplinary therapies (ABA, OT, SLP, mental health supports) and specialized educational programs (K-8, parent coaching, workshops, and online courses/workshops).
Tell us about yourself
My journey to Clinical Director at Magnificent Minds was somewhat non-linear but always guided by my values (and honestly, that was an evolution over time). During my undergrad, I worked with daycares, where I found myself connecting with children whose needs were exceptional. Looking back, they were probably neurodivergent little ones just trying to find their place in a system that wasn't set up for them, think—big behaviours, big emotions, social conflict, and missed developmental milestones. There were plenty of times I didn't have the power to change the systems that weren't serving these kids, but I wanted to.
I fell into a post-graduate program where I learned about behavioural science and Autism, some of it resonated deeply, and other pieces fell flat for me, so the journey continued. I completed several placements in dynamic facilities (therapy clinics), and while I fell in love with the population (paediatrics and neurodiversity), I didn't feel at home in a clinical setting and struggled to find my place in the existing landscape. My instincts led me to a special education program, where I first encountered a mixed (therapeutic and educational) model. As someone with an entrepreneurial spirit (CEO of lemonade stands as a kid) and someone who never truly felt served by the traditional educational models out there (constantly told I was too chatty, too distracted, too much), I started plotting my path to creating one of the first full-scale hybrid educational and therapeutic programs in Toronto.
In 2011, I co-founded Magnificent Minds with the vision of offering the benefit of clinical programming in a setting that didn't feel like a doctor's office and run by multi-disciplinary professionals "who get it." My driving force was that neurodivergent kids shouldn't have to choose between going to school or having their therapeutic needs met (read as feeling understood and supported)—they should have both as an educational right. As my business grew, I realized there was still so much to learn. I furthered my education with a Master's in Counselling Psychology, a graduate diploma in Applied Behaviour Analysis, and a certificate in Therapeutic Yoga and Play Interventions.
My plans for certification, further education, growth, and carving out my place in this field evolved as the needs of my business evolved and as the industry evolved around me. What motivates me to keep going are the small wins that collectively lead to the dismantling of systems that are no longer serving neurodivergent kids and their families—a small drop in the ocean but a ripple that eventually leads to forward motion.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
While I'd be lying if I didn't say the growth of the agency, and thereby our capacity to evoke change, is among my top accomplishments. One of the things I am most proud of is the way we have made evidence-based, neurodiversity-affirming, and trauma-informed perspectives (and strategies) widely available without barriers through our outreach initiates. We strive to help our students and their families in a real way, but we also strive to contribute to the dialogue that brings the entire field forward in a way that dismantles barriers and works towards change at a systemic level.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The hardest part of being a business owner in a high-stress and high-stakes industry is that burnout is real. It's been so important to build self-care habits (like actual restorative and proactive self-care, not just "namaste and chill"), and I'll be honest, I haven't always nailed it. Like everything, it's a work in progress.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Follow your passion. I don't believe "if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life" because the reality is you will work hard. You'll work a lot of hours on little sleep, but if you're passionate and thoughtful, you'll find the resolve you need to push through.
- Never take for granted where you are right now. Yes, dream big and chase the next goal, but remember that today's adventure was yesterday's dream.
- As soon as you stop feeling creative about the entrepreneurial process, you need to do a self-care audit and connect with yourself outside your role as a business owner.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
One of the happy accidents of building and scaling Magnificent Minds is the number of passionate, driven, and neurodivergent entrepreneurs I've made connections with over the years. Not only is it inspiring to meet other like-minded business owners, but it validates the fact that understanding how to work with your brain (rather than trying to change it), championing your greatest strengths, and leaning into what lights you up leads to ground-breaking change (through passionate disruptors), across sectors.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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