Zicklin School alumna Lisa Radcliffe (MBA, ’17) has been named an AACSB 2023 Influential Leader in the social impact category. She is the founder and CEO of PunkinFutz, a Brooklyn-based designer and maker of toys and accessories for children with adaptive needs. Inspired by the struggles of her own son and daughter, who have disabilities, Radcliffe launched the company while studying in the Zicklin School’s Evening MBA program.
“I found this huge market gap in the space my kids lived in,” Lisa says. Products for children with adaptive needs typically come from medical supply stores and are utilitarian and uninspiring, she explains. By contrast, the aim of PunkinFutz (named for a childhood nickname from Lisa’s dad) is to bring creative play to children who are often excluded from it. Its colorful, whimsical products — wheelchair bags, compression vests, water bottles, fidget toys, and more — encourage play. They use accessible design so they appeal not just to children with disabilities but to all kids, and are ethically sourced and manufactured. Last year, the company partnered with Sesame Street to launch a line of products featuring Elmo, Big Bird, and other familiar characters from the popular children’s TV show.
“I would not have founded my company if it weren’t for my experience at the Zicklin School,” declares Lisa, who enrolled in the Evening MBA program after a 25-year career leading technology organizations. “Zicklin was incredibly receptive to me as an older student. I loved my professors, who were so supportive, and I loved the work I did, which reenergized me and made me interested in what I do again. It literally changed my life.” Indeed, the PunkinFutz concept developed from a business idea Lisa originally pitched for an entrepreneurship class; eventually that professor and another Zicklin School colleague joined PunkinFutz’s advisory board.
As a nontraditional student alongside classmates who were young enough to be her children, Lisa gained an understanding of the younger generation: how they think, interact, and approach problems. “This was incredibly useful to my growth as a human being,” she says, “and to my ability to lead a successful 21st-century startup.”
Lisa’s goal, she says, is to create a sustainable model of a different kind of company. PunkinFutz designs its products with input from occupational therapists, people with disabilities, and other experts, and it exclusively employs adults with disabilities. Lisa also recently launched a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization, Powered by Inclusion, which provides after-school programs for children in special education settings.
“PunkinFutz produces exceptional products for children today, while creating meaningful employment for those children tomorrow,” Lisa offers. “Some of our customers will be business leaders themselves one day.”