Smart Play has been a God-send to the moms and dads of this community for the last four years. If you have a child between the ages of six weeks and twelve years, it’s quite likely that you have been to Smart Play at least once. (If you have no small children, fear not – this article is not about childcare. It’s about a brave and brilliant entrepreneur. Read on, you well-rested rapscallion.)
Just for clarity’s sake, I should explain what this miraculous place is – for the well-rested rapscallions.
Smart Play is a day school offering both regular enrollment and drop-in services for local area families. Kids are exposed to everything from creative arts to sign language, and believe me when I say they love attending. Parents can give just 24-hour notice, and then bring their child to a fun-filled day of learning and play, thus freeing up their own time to do things like, oh I don’t know, hear themselves think. Perhaps take a shower. Eat a meal while sitting down. You know – those little luxuries.
Now you need to meet Kristea Cancel.
Cancel is the genius with the big heart behind Smart Play. She is not an Upper Cumberland native; she came here from Atlanta by way of Charlotte, NC, and we are so glad that she did. This former contract negotiator had the opportunity to retire from her days of sailing the never-ending seas of budgets and legal claptrap, and what did she do? She saw the need for a day school and decided to make it happen. All while she and her husband Quinton raised their two small children. (She calls him her “silent spark.” I love that.) Talk about a saint! Cancel created this service for Cookeville from her heart, rather than a desire to be her own boss. She is my second type of entrepreneur.
What? There are entrepreneurial types?
Yes. Some say there are four types. Others, who are really hateful and like to overcomplicate things, say there are as many as nine or ten types. Me, I keep it simple. I see entrepreneurs as falling into two very broad types.
Some entrepreneurs are arduously working to set themselves up for years of blissful independence and self-employment from the moment they’re tall enough to reach the Cocoa Puffs at the supermarket and sneak them into the cart. We will call these people serial, or “cereal” entrepreneurs. (Because of the Cocoa Puffs. I hope you’re laughing at that because it’s hilarious.) They find a thrill in starting and caring for a business, like a little baby. Then when the baby is old enough to walk and talk and dress itself, they sell it and look for another baby to nurture.
Others seem to fall into entrepreneurship more quietly. I call them “reluctant entrepreneurs.” It’s almost like entrepreneurship gently seeps into their soul until suddenly, they wake up to find themselves holding business license instruction pamphlets and looking up what LLC means. I imagine it takes a good amount of bravery, being this second type of entrepreneur. Serial entrepreneurs may be accustomed to a certain degree of failure. They might have tougher skins. This second type of entrepreneur may have tough skin too, but they started their businesses from a place of wanting to meet a need. Their little hearts beat so strongly at the thought of seeing a particular type of business come to fruition that they are willing to step up to the plate and do it themselves. They have a passion for the business, rather than business ownership itself. Cancel is one such passionate person.
So how did her passion turn in to a successful business?
Cancel was quite familiar with drop-in day schools in Georgia and North Carolina. She knew what a blessing it was to both stay-at-home and working parents to have a safe, nurturing place wherein one could entrust ones children for a few hours. She saw that our area had no such place. And eventually, she said, “I will create this place.” Cancel sought the guidance and wisdom of other day school owners whom she admired, then gave herself a year to put a business plan together. In April of 2014, she received approval from the state of Tennessee, and by the end of June, Smart Play was open for business.
Business has been going well for Cancel. Smart Play recently moved to a brand new location on Veterans Drive, keeping them even busier than before. Besides the clever design of Cancel’s business model, Smart Play has been successful because of the atmosphere Cancel creates, as well. Like many other successful entrepreneurs, Cancel believes that working and treating each other as a family and a team leads to the best possible outcomes.
“Someone once told me, Smart Play isn’t all about you [Cancel],” she says. “This is about the families that are going to be blessed, and the people who are going to be blessed from working here, and the kids who will come through these doors. Those words impacted me so much. I still have the business card that person gave me from four years ago, faded, in my office.” Genuine passion for the business or service you run cannot be faked. On behalf of the moms, dads, and reluctant entrepreneur hopefuls in the Upper Cumberland, we thank you for your heart, Kristea Cancel.
For more information about Smart Play, follow this link to their website.