From the March 2009 issue of Startups

When Dana Oliver adopted her daughter while working as a financial advisor, she quickly learned that trying to be a mother in an inflexible corporate world was going to be a challenge. Finding good child care also proved difficult: Reliable baby sitters weren't easy to find, and most child-care centers closed by early evening. When Oliver began researching existing centers, she found that many were of substandard quality and poorly staffed, leaving parents with few options. "I thought, 'There [must] be so many people in this situation,'" says Oliver, 44.

Eager for work that could accommodate her parental duties and solve a common family problem, Oliver launched Adventure Kids Playcare in 2004 and began franchising two years later. The drop-in child-care service offers facilities that emphasize convenience for parents and safety and fun for kids. The centers are open as late as midnight, with safety measures including a parental identification software database and a first-aid-trained staff. The centers themselves feature rock walls, movie theaters, video games and a calendar of activities that appeal to kids of all ages and keep them coming back. "That's the basis of what I wanted to create: a really fun place that the kids would ask to go to, and the parents wouldn't feel guilty [about]," Oliver says.

Dallas-based Adventure Kids operates eight locations in Texas and is already looking to expand nationwide, with potential franchisees signing up online (franchise.adventurekidsplaycare.com) to open a center in their home market. The system makes it easy for new owners to learn from other franchisees, and Oliver says the nature of the franchise allows her to spend quality time with her daughter and still run her business, which brought in about $4 million in franchisewide sales in 2008. She adds, "I can't tell you how lucky I feel on a daily basis that I can blend all this together."