Overcoming obstacles: Original risk is paying off for Child’s Play Challenge Courses, which has grown to franchising stage

Before Matthew and Lauren Borawski had a thriving obstacle course business, they had more than a few hoops of their own to jump through.

The most daunting of which was the fact that they had $15,000 in their bank account – and every penny of it was needed to get their small enterprise underway.

It wasn’t easy to risk it all. But nearly a decade after taking that leap, their business, Child’s Play Challenge Courses, is crossing state lines, expanding into franchise operations and earning accolades.

The Borawski family.

Lauren Borawski said it took some learning how to be flexible – and not just as a sudden husband-wife business duo that neither had expected entering into their relationship.

Their business itself had to be flexible as well. The portable obstacle course business sets up for birthday parties, carnivals, street fairs or school programs inside or outside. They’re comfortable providing experiences even in conference rooms, which is something they’ve done during holiday parties for American Express.

“Not only can we do just about any event, but we can adapt it to little ones … and adults often want to jump in, too,” Borawski said. “In fact, we just did a 50-year-old’s birthday party.”

As a leader in New Jersey’s performing arts scene for more than two decades, this niche business wasn’t exactly an expected second act for Borawski.

But she and her fitness instructor husband couldn’t resist exploring the potential business possibilities of portable obstacle courses after setting one up for fun at a neighborhood block party in 2014.

“It was a huge success,” she said. “People said: ‘This is great. Do you do birthday parties, too?’ That’s when we realized this can really be something.”

Of course, there were facilities with obstacle training branded as “ninja gyms,” inspired by the obstacle-running reality show “American Ninja Warrior,” that already existed around northern-central New Jersey (in their company’s eventual Scotch Plains base).

“Our gut feeling early on was that there were starting to be so many of those gyms out there that we didn’t want to compete as a brick-and-mortar business,” Borawski said. “No one else was doing it in a portable way, coming right to customers.”

With some guidance from a local New Jersey Small Business Development Center, which was particularly crucial for the small business during the pandemic, Child’s Play Challenge Courses slowly grew throughout the years — mostly through word of mouth.

A few years in, they had enough business to justify making it their full-time jobs. Today, they have enough business to justify making it a full-time job for other small business owners, too.

With calls coming in from all over the country — and even out of the country, based on some interested parties in Canada — the couple decided to start pitching their business model as a franchising opportunity.

“The vision is coast-to-coast course crushing, as we call it,” Borawski said. “Franchising, which we started last April, is still new to us. But, with the flexible model and the lower startup investment and overhead (than a traditional brick-and-mortar company), as well as multiple revenue streams, we see limitless possibilities with expanding it across the country — and, maybe, one day, internationally.”

Matthew and Lauren Borawski are thinking about a future with the family-owned business, including a 19-year-old daughter who was grown up alongside it, which was never part of the plan initially.

“We didn’t get married thinking we were getting a good business partnership together,” she said. “However, now, I can’t imagine not owning a business together. I’m not going to say it’s always easy, or that we don’t argue. But the reason the business is so good is because we complement each other’s skill-sets so well. I can’t do what he does, and vice versa.”

Borawski was this month named as one of the U.S. Small Business Administration‘s 2023 Small Business Persons of the Year. Only one small business entrepreneur from each state is given that accolade annually. She’ll be one of the award winners recognized during the National Small Business Week ceremony at the end of April in Washington, D.C.

Her and her husband’s business was a recent recipient of one of about a dozen of the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers’ annual Small Business Growth Awards. Accepting that award, having the pictures taken, felt like a special moment for their family, Borawski said.

There have been many like it.

“Driving back from one of these events we do, tired but satisfied, knowing we did something together — those are memories we’re making as a family working together,” she said. “No other arrangement can give you that.”