About our guest
Karine Gagner is the President of fdmt, a company that specializes in high-quality educational material and sensory tools. She founded fdmt in 2002. It has grown it ever since. Their goal is clear and meaningful! They offer a wide range of solutions for all children with or without learning difficulties in order to lead them towards success. Her passion and motivation also come from the greatest project of her life: mother to Anais. Her a 17-year-old daugther with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Every day, she works not only for her daughter but for all children. In addition, she works for the parents who simply need a little help in their daily lives.
It was clear throughout the course of this podcast episode, that Karine thinks of this passion as the key to innovation.
I enjoyed fdmt’s written mission statement so much that I read it in the innovation segment of this episode.
For our audience, here first on the blog, what is fdmt?
Put simply, fdmt helps children develop to their full potential. They provide resources, games, educational materials, and quality sensory tools. One of the most iconic moments for the business came with the birth of manimo. Manimo are weighted toy companions that disrupted the marketplace. They are a best-seller. Because Karine and her team listened to the unique needs of parents and professionals.
On fdmt’s website, they end their About Us page with a promise…
“Promoting everyone’s development to their fullest potential is our mission.”
What is the key to innovation?
Like many entrepreneurial origin stories, Karine’s starts with fascination, something that grabs your attention and refuses to let go.
“I was fascinated with all these clientele. And I was pregnant at that time, and it just happened that my daughter Anais, when she was born in 2002, she was a special kid…”
“We found out later on that she had sensory disorder and that she was on the autism spectrum. And it made me engage even more I should say in this business. I love what I was starting to do.”
Because of her daughter, Karine dug even deeper into sensory tools.
It was this inspiration that was key to the innovation of fdmt’s flagship product, Manimo. Karine looked around the industry. She saw many weighted products as sensory tools. But she didn’t see anything that captured her attention. Moreover, she didn’t see anything that captured the attention of children. Not to the degree she envisioned possible.
“It was really something that we wanted to create for kids at the beginning with sensory issues to have something that would achieve what a weighted vest would in therapy, but something that the kid can actually relate to and just go and grab when they need it. So its something accessible instead of being a therapy. That’s really how it started.”
We talked about entrepreneurship in Episode #03 of the Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast with Renee Warren, CEO of We Wild Women. What became clear throughout our discussion with Karine was that innovation is key. What do her customers really want? She wanted to design something to improve the lives of children everywhere. She wanted to give them something they actually want to use and something they can bond with.
Striving for focus
When the pandemic began in Canada, it hit Montreal particularly hard and continues to during the autumn wave.
For Karine and the fdmt team, that meant focus on their original mission, vision, and values.
“I was like, okay I’m doing a lot of things, but what is the essence of this business?”
“And it mainly came back to the original reason why I had started this business and it was to help people in the sensory field in the way that people need to be comfortable in their own body.”
She inspired her team to double-down beside her; to use this time of fear and anxiety, to be productive.
“And I said to my team, “okay, this is our time. We are doing this. Now, we’re going to invest in getting those projects done fast, because I think that people need it and I think that Manimo can be a very good help in managing the anxiety that we have.”
I asked Karine to reflect on the effects of this time on our health and wellness. What is the effect on her daughter and family, for example?
“It’s asking a lot of us, self discipline to be able to really manage your schedule and get things but also all the social part…You can’t give a hug to your mother. This is hard, I think, on people. And even if we’re trying to adjust, we’re still really in the adjustment part. I’m not sure any human is really able to adjust completely of not having that hug to the people you care and love.”
We circled back to the key to innovation in entrepreneurship and in the creation of Manimo and fdmt. Like all good entrepreneurs, Karine asked herself a fundamental question.”
“What can I do that I would feel that I have a mission in life, that I feel that I would do it different?”
She immediately engaged key stakeholders to be involved.
“…we work with lots of different OT’s and different teachers, because we wanted to see how the products will be in reaction in the field.”
In the Fall of 2004, after two years of work on the product, Karine and her team presented to a room full of Occupational Therapists at an OT conference.
“I still remember it like if it was yesterday. And when I got in that room, there was 40 OTs there, and they were all there for a special workshop…So I was there presenting my five products, it was just like, Wow!…all the OT was crazy happy about what we just launched. And that’s when I really knew, Okay, I’m doing this for something.”
What is it about Manimo, weighted products, and sensory tools that have taken the market by storm?
“…it’s really comes from the OT part of sensory integration. I mean, basically it’s like the deep pressure therapy…what it does is that it’s a little bit like a massage. You know when you go for a massage, you get the deep pressure feel, and what it actually does… I always call it like a reset of your nervous system. So if you are in the sensory overload, you’re hyperactive or hyperreactive, it will actually help you to calm down to a good level of awareness.”
It can also have the opposite effect too.
“…if you don’t have enough awareness, it will actually bring you back up to a good level. So it makes two things it either calms you down or helps you being more aware of, and being more there.”
I asked Karine, “What kinds of strategies do you implement to reduce the noise of the current era?”
“…what I’ve learned very fast, like early in my daughter’s life is that I had to be there at the moment. I think that being there at the present, with her was what I’ve learned the most.”
When a reflection on the experience of her daughter’s life, Karine spoke beautifully.
“…with people that I’ve met in this field taught me, it’s really to trust my inner feeling with my daughter. And it was really what I was trying to do, it’s not to change her.”
As her daughter gets older and her experience of the world changes, Karine and her family have had to adapt.
“…what I always tried to do is to have like a calm time, in the morning, even before going to school, or go start working…but it’s always preceded by exercise time. So we start our day with either going out for a walk or for a jog.”
“And we found out that when we do this, little sensory break throughout the day, we get to the end of our day and we’re not as exhausted as when we don’t do it. So I think this is the main strategy that we have been using for years, my daughter and I.”
Christel has been a sensory tool, Manimo and fdmt fan, for some time now.
“…one of the things that really attracted me to them as an occupational therapist was that… her founder story and just her passion, and her purpose, shines through in what they’re trying to do. She started with just a little story or a little quote where she said…they were really trying to create solutions that were more than therapy.”
“And just that little statement made me a little teary and brought me back in my career.”
Christel shared a special moment in her career thus far.
“I’m gonna say about easily 15 years ago now working with a preschooler, goodness, who would now be a young man. And I had this little lending library of sensory strategies and tools and one of the things we had I think it was the weighted frog. I saw him weekly for therapy. And so we loaned it out to… he was going to give it a try…when they came back for their therapy session the next week, he was upset, he asked me, “Why do I have to give my only friend back?”
This is the kind of effect that Manimo has on so many. It is due to Karine’s attention to detail, her incredible passion, and her sense of product-market fit for sensory tools.
Being there in the moment
As someone who is herself on the path to develop and discover sensory-friendly solutions, Christel reflected on Karine’s strategy to navigate the current time.
“I think, again, as someone who, like Karine, who’s on a path to develop and discover solutions, that she’s not lost sight of the importance of that. How that informs everything else that we do. And you know, and that resonates with the busyness of what we’re all experiencing right now. The change the stress, the anxiety, and that our guests often their strategies and the sensory friendly solutions that they bring to light. There is something about being there in the moment that gives clarity.”
Throughout the course of the Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast, we want to ensure that you take action. Moreover, we hope we have, in some way, improve your quality of life.
This week’s Innovation Segment is no surprise. Christel has represented fdmt at trade shows. She has used their sensory tools including Manimo & fdmt’s product lineup as an occupational therapist too. We highly encourage you to learn more about Manimo and sensory tools.
Karine Gagner, thank you for your leadership and for your participation in the Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast.
We look forward to seeing you back next week for Episode #7 of the Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast.
Thank you for being on this journey with us.