Cyma Zarghami, CEO of MIMO Studios, has made a name for herself as a multifaceted veteran in the world of children’s television and franchise development. As the president of Nickelodeon and Viacom Media Networks Kids & Family Group from 2006-2018, Zarghami steered the Nickelodeon ship to become the leader in children’s programming and the number one kids cable network with high-ranking programs like SpongeBob SquarePants, iCarly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dora the Explorer and PAW Patrol.  

Now she is taking all she has learned to blaze a trail at the helm of her own company, MIMO Studios, a sleek children’s storytelling factory for the streaming age. The recipient of the SRQ Magazine’s Women Who Roar Trailblazer Award, presented to women who are passionate and undaunted in pursuing their dreams, Zarghami was born in Iran to a Scottish mother and Iranian father.  Her family immigrated to the United States when she was a child and she spent her formative years in New Jersey. She explored teaching and writing as possible career options before heading to New York where she found her place at fledgling startup, Nickelodeon. She says, “I loved the people. I loved the product, I loved the idea of it. And it seemed like a great company. So I stayed for 33 years.” 

Zarghami learned the business from the ground up starting as a programmer and quickly moving up the corporate ladder. “With each new business that we did I like to say, I got an MBA because I learned as we grew and I helped build a lot of it,” she says. “Eventually,

I got the seat at the head of the table and we enjoyed incredible success for many years”.  She notes that amidst many career highlights, the pinnacle of her time at Nickelodeon was taking SpongeBob SquarePants to the bright lights of Broadway. “That was really a great moment for me. We had done movies, consumer products, games, theme park rides, and we’d gone around the globe. Taking SpongeBob to Broadway was a fantastic crowning achievement.”

In 2018, Zarghami left Nickelodeon and took some time to plot her next course. She realized with all of her experience there was one facet of the business she had yet to conquer. “Putting projects together and bringing them to the marketplace was the one thing that I never actually did at Nickelodeon. I oversaw all of it. I never actually did it.” So she decided to start her own company and do just that.  

MIMO Studios, named for the mini-movies that are the company’s signature, launched with a vision to create a pipeline of animated and live-action content in a TV-length movie format for kids 11-years-old and younger. The studio is producing its family-focused offerings from original content in the categories of preschool, animation, live-action and podcast and will be available through traditional and digital outlets. 

MIMO is focused on developing long-lasting hits in children’s entertainment and the studio has an impressive pipeline. MIMO’s first project out of the gate is the live-action feature, The Kid Who Only Hit Homers, based on author Matt Christopher’s children’s book and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. MIMO has also partnered with Gurinder Chadha and Paul Berges of Bend It Like Beckham fame to write a live-action film adaptation of the book, Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort. MIMO Preschool has acquired the rights to develop NY Times best-selling preschool book franchise, The Pout-Pout Fish into a series of CGI animated, TV-length original movies. Meanwhile, MIMO Animation is developing an animated, TV-length film adaptation of the award-winning, serialized kids podcast, The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian from Gen-Z Media and MIMO Sports announced its first podcast miniseries, Heroes of the Game in partnership with Baron Davis and UWish.  The studio has plans to develop Heroes of the Game into a TV movie which Davis will executive produce.

Zarghami believes that MIMO Studios is poised to be a forerunner in the industry because of the experienced team she has put together and the innovative approach they are employing to address the changing nature of the industry.  “I have surrounded myself with a group of people who know kids better than anybody else and can say that, having been at Nickelodeon for 33 years, we understand the audience quite well. I think the model has changed completely and the streaming services have disrupted the way that kids are using content,” she says. “There hasn’t been a big hit in the kids business for seven years, eight maybe. There are a few reasons for that, but I do think it’s because the streaming services have come online and subscribers, who are the most important thing, are primarily adults. It’s going to take a few years before people realize how important the kid audience is to this sort of media business.”

Zarghami notes that MIMO will employ a new take on franchise development. She says, “The toolkit for making great franchises is different now. Publishing is having a moment as a source of great IP. Podcasts have come online and the toy business is in a completely different state than it’s been,” she says. “The way we’re going at it is to deeply understand the emotional state of kids today. We’re trying to make a contribution, if we can, to their overall happiness by bringing them something they’re going to love and get it to market faster and more efficiently.  At the end of the day the content is what drives the larger business. So we’re making the content and hopefully, if we make good enough content, kids will gravitate to it and emotionally respond to it so that everything else can fall into place. If you think about the Dora the Explorers or the SpongeBob’s of the world, there hasn’t been anything that has resonated like that in a long time. So I feel like we have a good shot in finding the next one,” 

MIMO’s larger mission is providing a happy refuge for kids in an uncertain world and Zarghami believes that great stories and characters are the way to do that. “I think that the best thing that we can do for kids today is create a level of escapism for them. Because of social media, COVID and  the last four years politically, kids are exposed to way too much of the real world,” she says. “I think that they’re fiercely aware of their parents’ economic position, they’re exposed to the news in real-time in a way that they never were in the past and they’re under incredible pressure and stress. So the most value that kids businesses can offer right now is really high quality, really low stress,  really good escapism.” 

Having embraced the leap into entrepreneurship, Zarghami says that having her own company is much more fulfilling compared with her corporate experience. “It is more gratifying in every way at the moment. I was an executive and now I’m a producer and an entrepreneur.  I am at the core fiercely competitive and I don’t like to fail, so I would like to be successful and I’m fairly ambitious about what I think we’re going to be able to do. Everything is just so much more efficient and I think that’s a combination of having my own business being in charge of my own schedule.  Nobody wants to waste time. Most meetings are 30 minutes now. I haven’t been in an hour-long meeting in two years,” she says. 

Another benefit she notes upon reflection is that at the helm of her own company she now has the opportunity to create and implement her visions in her own way and on her own terms—something she thinks can be a challenge in the business world.  “ I put the brand, the organization, the people and the company first for my entire career,” she says. “And I would say at the end of the day, the one thing I probably didn’t do well enough was advocate for myself.  I think I was naive and believed that if the company was successful, that I would be successful. I saw this sort of ‘rose-colored glasses’ idea in all the women I was working with. I missed an opportunity to advocate for myself better. I wouldn’t say I regret it, but I would say it was a lesson that I learned.”  

As MIMO embarks upon a fresh approach to producing children’s programming, Zarghami notes that she is committed to making female leadership, diversity and family-centric values a huge part of MIMO’s culture. She says the support she received from female executives at Nickelodeon was integral to her success. “I think that being a female executive in any corporation is an ongoing hurdle. But Nickelodeon was a female-led organization. It was sort of a unicorn in Viacom,” she says. “And the great thing about it was, while there were a lot of men there, we were surrounded by strong women in leadership positions. When I worked for Judy McGrath, who was the head of MTV networks, everywhere I looked I saw women. It was a really unique and special environment. So as I build my new company, one of the things that I am determined to do is have a female-owned, female-run company and support the cause for female leaders, every chance I can.”

Likewise, citing her husband and three sons as her life’s greatest accomplishment she recognizes the positive impact of working for a company that recognizes the importance of family. “One of the reasons I appreciated my career at Nickelodeon so much is because I really do think that being in the kids business and in a leadership position has allowed me to create a place where family could remain super important,” she says. “I would put my kids and my husband above all else, because that is what’s important and always has been.” 

Since leaving the corporate world, Zarghami notes that the unprecedented events of the past few years have changed people’s approach to work and will have a lasting impact on business.  “I think that the work-life balance has shifted now, at least for the near long-term,” she says. “People got a taste of what life could be like without feeling like they had to be working around the clock and they are leaving the workforce in droves at the moment so I would imagine that the entrepreneurs are going to come out of the woodwork.” 

A side benefit of being an entrepreneur in this new world according to Zarghami is the opportunity to create a more balanced and successful life. To do that she says everyone just needs to slow down. “I was in a hurry for probably 35 years. I think one of the huge benefits to this new world that we’re living in is everything takes a little bit more time and it’s great,” she says. “You spend a little bit more time having conversations, a little bit more time thinking. It’s really nice not to be in a hurry at the moment. And I feel like I’m better for it. I’m a better friend. I’m a better mother. I’m a better executive. I’m a better thinker. I think going slower is really important. And I think people forget to take care of themselves. That’s part of the slow down. Make sure you’re exercising, make sure you’re getting some alone time. You have to figure out how to make yourself feel good. Because if you feel good, everybody around you feels good.”

For Zarghami, feeling good means thriving in her business, spending quality time with family, a decadent novel and chocolate chip cookies.  She says, “I love to bake. I’ve been making fabulous chocolate chip cookies for about 30 years now. And it’s one of my little secrets”

With MIMO, Zarghami has found a perfect outlet for her experience, passion and talents. Happy at the helm of MIMO, she’s excited for the possibilities on the horizon and says, “Now that I’m on the other side of the table,” she says. “I’m having a really good time and I’m excited to have a company that brings to life the quality of content that I think the next generation really needs. I’m having a ton of fun.” 

Learn more about MIMO Studios at