Play is the New PhD?


By Zach Schepis

Photo courtesy of Kelsey Ramsden.

Kelsey Ramsden was the little blonde-haired girl on the sidewalk trying to sell you a lemonade on your way to work. Most days you were probably too busy to stop, but when you saw her holding out the Dixie cup you stopped in your tracks. Forking over the dollar bill was second nature, but only because she made you feel that way.

Fast forward a few decades, and that little girl has become Canada’s most successful female entrepreneur (ranked #1 two years in a row by PROFIT/Chatelaine). She’s rolled up her sleeves and delved into the dirt to found her own civil construction company, created a monthly play subscription service for both parents and children alike, and overcame cancer all at the same time.

How, you might ask, did she accomplish all of this?

In a country where only 16 percent of small and medium sized businesses are owned by females, Ramsden might seem like an anomaly. But she’s the first to assure that there are prevailing values and attitudes that anyone can adopt to propel them along a comparable path to success.

Ramsden tells BTR that the most important trait is probably resilience.

“Self awareness would have to be the second one,” she continues. “When you start out you need to do a lot of things yourself, and you need to quickly recognize what isn’t working and what weaknesses you have. Your great idea might actually suck, and you need to the first one to admit that it needs to be changed.”

Self-determination and a hunger for business might be noteworthy additions to the list. Ramsden has been self-driven and motivated since day one. As a child, she would accompany her brother in sweeping the street outside of their family’s house. The two savvy children would in turn blockade the street and charge passersby a quarter to enter their “beautifully swept public road.”

The road would become an eventual metaphor to self-sustaining determinism that the siblings still walk today. Kelsey’s success is well publicized, but her brother Trent is also a successful entrepreneur who founded SAXX Underwear, a men’s athletic undergarments line, a decade ago.

Ramsden was born into a family of entrepreneurs, which ultimately proved to be just as challenging as it was scintillating. The unconventional lifestyles of her parents (her father had business interests in construction and waterslides, her mother in both gift and cleaning industries) encouraged the young Ramsden to deviate from the norm. However, they also showed her all of the daily challenges she would have to overcome on the path to success.

“I think any successful entrepreneur who tells you that once you make it past a certain point it becomes smooth sailing is definitely telling you a fib,” says Ramsden. “There are periods when it’s chill, but for the most part it’s just the same when you start as it is when you’re growing–there’s always something that comes up.”

One of the first challenges pitted up against Ramsden arose on the way to obtaining her MBA. When prompted by an admissions essay to describe herself, the ever-creative student instead chose to submit a colorful rendition of her molecular structure. What looked like a “Bill Nye experiment gone horribly awry” actually won her admission to the program, according to an admissions officer who later admitted the colorful application existed outside the confines of her checklist. The outlandish molecular depiction inspired the officer to enroll the freewheeling thinker.

After graduating, Ramsden became a management consultant. However, after six months a staggering epiphany dawned on her: she wasn’t being driven by her job. One day she walked into her office, looked at her boss, and thought to herself if I had to put $100 on her or me, then I choose me.

With the realization still ringing in her ears, Ramsden quit that same day and started her own construction business. Following in the footsteps of her father, Ramsden became the President of Belvedere Place Development in 2005, a civil construction firm based in Kelowna, British Columbia. That same year, she also founded Tallus Ridge Development, a residential project management company.

Shortly after these successful endeavors, the entrepreneur also created a children’s monthly subscription service called SparkPlay based out of Ontario. SparkPlay provides imaginative, educational outlets for children to explore larger concepts, such as science and mathematics, using toys as an interactive learning resource.

An unexpected roadblock almost took Ramsden off the fast track. In 2012, the budding entrepreneur was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Not one to be deterred, she became a cancer survivor that very same year.

“It put a 180 degree turn on the way I decided to approach my career going forward,” says Ramsden. “I put my businesses into management, and started a shift from owning big businesses towards speaking teaching and consulting–which is what I do now.”

Ramsden still owns one of the companies, but has since created a very successful business consulting firm: She uses the platform to advise businesses of all types and sizes.

She’s a wealth of advice and information; whether it’s marketing, sales, or general attitude adjustments, Ramsden’s invaluable experience lends itself to informed advice on crucial decision making in the marketplace.

To hear more from Kelsey Ramsden tune in to today’s episode of Third Eye Weekly.