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Why Dia Mirza decided to invest in a toy startup started by an IIT-Delhi alum

In a conversation with HerStory, Meeta Sharma Gupta, founder of toy startup Shumee; and Dia Mirza, actor, philanthropist, environmentalist, and investor, talk about the idea and relevance of the concept and why the actor chose to invest in the startup.

Why Dia Mirza decided to invest in a toy startup started by an IIT-Delhi alum

Thursday February 24, 2022 , 4 min Read

When Harvard and IIT-Delhi alum Meeta Sharma Gupta became a mother and returned from the US to India in 2012, she decided to go toy-shopping for her two-year-old son. Her shopping list was simple: sustainable toys and products that did not use plastic or electronic parts. 

“But there wasn’t anything available and I found that very disconcerting,” says Meeta, in a conversation with HerStory, adding that making toys out of sustainable materials wasn’t a new concept. 

Aiming to “bring back the joy of free play”, Meeta launched Shumee in 2016.

“As parents, we are obsessed with educational toys and getting our children to learn from a very early age. What we forget is that children thrive best in free, open environments where rules and instructions play a minimal role and there are no expected outcomes. The toy should never overpower or guide the child; the child should be the driver of the play experience and learning,” Meeta says.

Dia Mirza, actor, philanthropist, environmentalist, and investor, agrees, saying: “It is about going back to the roots.” 


Meeta Sharma Gupta, Founder of Shumee

Why Dia Mirza stepped in

In October 2021, Dia invested in Shumee, a choice that was personal. 

“As a mother, I have been looking for products that ensure safety and are environment-friendly; those that are good for the wellbeing of not only your child, but also the world we live in,” Dia says. It’s how the duo met, Dia kept looking online and through her search she found Shumee. 

“I picked up the phone and called Meeta to understand more about the business and its model. Once my team and I had a conversation with Meeta, I was sure I wanted to support more businesses and women entrepreneurs like her,” Dia says. 

She adds that her focus will be on supporting more women leaders and entrepreneurs. “I think women build and look at business models very differently.” 

On her investment in Shumee, Dia says, “It is a priceless opportunity to expand your understanding of life, your own self, and the world. As a mother, you become deeply attuned to not just your child, but the wellbeing of the planet, other children, and all forms of life. I am thrilled to endorse a brand that is doing some great and category-defining work in this space.”

Dia is presently the ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme, Wildlife Trust of India, Save the Children, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. 

For both, Dia and Meeta, the alignment was in making products that are long-lasting and sustainable. 

“Being cognisant of my baby’s needs, I find the entire range of Shumee toys to be a great enabler of my child's cognitive development while he is at play. I admire and appreciate that Shumee toys are built on a pillar of sustainability by local artisans. These toys are natural inside and out, and that is a very reassuring thought,” Dia says. 

Helping children learn better

Amid the rise in fancy toys made of materials that may not be safe and that are likely to break in a short period of time, it can be a challenge to find old-school ones that don’t pose a risk to children.

Shumee toys are created by an in-house team from India’s top design schools, including NID and NIFT. They are handcrafted by local artisans using wood, cotton, and other natural child-safe materials.

Meeta says the idea of toys is to help children learn and engage better. “Children learn through play, and not through force or pressure. Currently, there are over 100 toys and games at Shumee,” she says, adding that they are not educational but are focused on open-ended play led by the child’s own imagination and will. 

As the child plays, they hone age-appropriate skills, including fine and gross motor and sensory skills in early months, and problem-solving, creativity, and communication later. The toys are priced between Rs 250 and Rs 500, and Meeta says the “idea is to get the best products in the children’s toys segment”. 

Advising all women leaders, Dia says, “Women have always have had astute business and leadership sense. They just need to start believing in themselves. Please do not hesitate to try and do new things. Nothing stops you other that yourself.” 

Edited by Teja Lele