Meet the Innovator: Puzzling Disorder Project
Get to know the Social Innovation Lab’s Accelerator Cohort 2021–22 over the coming weeks. For this interview, we spoke with Nikki Stokes, founder of the Puzzling Disorder Project, part of HGE Designs. Nikki is a designer, first responder, reiki practitioner and community advocate for other parents and families raising Autistic children.
The Puzzling Disorder Project is an outgrowth of HGE Designs Co. to offer sensory and kinesthetic support for Autistic children through functional fashion, sensory inclusive products and customized sensory kits.
SIL: Tell us about your company. What are you working on?
The Puzzling Disorder Project is an outgrowth of HGE Designs Co. Life and blessings have caused us to pivot directions and we are focusing on functional fashion and sensory kits to help autistic children deal with the symptoms of sensory processing issues.
SIL: Why did you decide to start this? Where did the idea come from?
I never planned on becoming a business owner. HGE Designs Co. was created to answer a need for financial support to cover respite care, swim lessons and therapy after my son’s autism diagnosis.
The idea for the Puzzling Disorder Project came about during the onset of the pandemic when my son was separated from his school, therapists and any sensory integration therapy. I realized the materials, fabrics and even stitches of the apparel I was crocheting and knitting mimicked the panels of sensory rooms and tools he used at school. After building a sensory room for him, I decided to make smaller versions and customized, weighted scarves and blankets in the hopes of providing relief for other families.
SIL: What constitutes success for you?
Success for me is the ability to earn a living by minimizing the hardships parents and caregivers endure by sharing my story and resources and creating solutions.
SIL: What have you accomplished so far?
I am an Elevation Awards Alumni, a BGE Energizing Business Grant recipient, and a new autism resource center coordinator in Baltimore.
SIL: How can people get involved in supporting you in your venture?
I welcome the lived experiences of autistic community members to assist with product testing. We are also seeking financial support in developing a prototype for sensory products and kits that can be used by families, emergency rooms and first responders to help autistic children that may become overwhelmed from sensory overload. We also are eager to collaborate with local businesses to include products in our kits that will benefit our customers while also providing support for the maker community of sensory products.
SIL: What have been some of the biggest challenges in scaling your venture during the pandemic?
Some of the biggest challenges have been extreme isolation due to the pandemic and the inability to have interactions where students can touch and experience products. The loss of revenue from pop-up shops and the usual vending opportunities.
SIL: What do you like most about the Baltimore entrepreneurial community? What would you like to see more of?
I love the resilience of the Baltimore entrepreneurial community. If there is an ongoing problem, you know there is someone working to figure it out. Baltimore breeds creatives innately. Sometimes they just need to be told that a thing is “a thing.” I would love to see more nurturing of that entrepreneurial spirit and energy for our children while they still believe anything is possible.
SIL: What advice do you have for would-be social entrepreneurs thinking about starting a venture?
Never stop learning. Technology, methods and research changes things so fast. Even the things you feel you have mastered are constantly being improved.
SIL: Why did you apply to SIL? What attracted you to SIL?
I applied to SIL because it gave me hope that I could make a difference as a regular person. There was a need for the work I was doing and SIL was going to give me access to a network of professionals and resources to make it all happen.
SIL: How have you grown personally during your time in the Accelerator?
My confidence in using my life experience as a teaching tool has grown. I have learned that this process is not something I can solve overnight. Slow, steady and meaningful progress is just as important. Impacting one family at a time is still a huge win.