A new breed of entrepreneurs is gaining steam: moms who decide to create new businesses after giving birth. While pundits ponder why women are underrepresented in corporate leadership, despite the fact that women now account for the majority of the workforce, these "mompreneurs" find opportunity, rather than disadvantage, in their motherhood.
The idea often starts with something as basic as changing diapers. Since disposable diapers are the third largest contributor to landfills, no surprise that eco- minded moms, not quite ready to revert to scrubbing cloth diapers, needed an alternative. Australian-born Kim Graham-Nye was pregnant with her first child when she began searching for diaper options and instead found "an amazing hole in the market." Her solution was to license diaper technology, which she could only market outside of Australia and New Zealand. With her husband Jason, also her business partner, she moved to environmentally-friendly Portland, Oregon where they founded gDiapers in 2005 to "keep plastic off babies and out of landfills."
Made without plastic, chlorine, latex or perfume, another mantra for new moms, these diaper hybrids consist of cute, colorable and washable outer pants with a snap- in absorbent liner with an inner pad that can be flushed or composted away; they are available online at Amazon, Target and Walmart and various baby sites as well as in baby stores like Babies R Us and eco- friendly retailers such as Whole Foods. The company, whose sales have grown on average 65% a year for the last three years, has also acquired a reputation for its family friendly workplace, offering flextime as well as day care for its 18 employees. Its latest expansion is in the UK with its October launch of gnappies.com with further European expansion on the way.
Another tidal wave of interest among moms is the quest for good nutrition for their children in a junk food world. A Georgia mother, Lori Asbury, with 20 years experience in advertising, struggled for years as "an overscheduled mom with the challenge of providing healthy food" for her own two children. So a year ago, she and her sister Kristy Williams, founded Hidden Healthies which produces a line of 8-pound bags of frozen sauces for school lunch programs, because, Lori says, "we felt we could make an impact in schools with the rising concern about obesity and poor eating habits." But their cheese sauce to pour over pasta contains the same amount of vegetables as cheese, including butternut squash, white beans and sweet potatoes. And the marinara contains "hidden vegetables" like pureed cauliflower, sweet potato, zucchini, and carrots, along with tomatoes.
Best news is that "the kids have been reacting positively" to taste tests which are a routine part of adding products to school lunch menus. President Asbury predicts current sales will more than double their current sales of 5000 cases a month of their frozen sauces by January to school districts in California and along the East Coast. Sensitive to charges that disguising vegetables is not teaching children to eat healthy, Lori points out that she sees this step "as part of a continuum because it's hard to make kids choose vegetables immediately."
With a similar focus on health and nutrition, the fledgling company ShopWell takes the legwork out of deciphering nutrition labels by providing you with a single score for the food products that interest you, based on input from nutritional experts, to match up as acceptable or not for your personal nutritional goals and needs. Consumers develop their personalized profile free on the ShopWell site. With its newly introduced mobile application, ShopWell allows users to scan product labels as they shop to highlight targeted ingredients to compare with their own nutrition needs. CEO L. Jasmine Kim, a mother of two children who have food allergies, reports research that shows a 30% increase in children born with food intolerances in the last decade. "ShopWell's goal" she says, is "to make healthy eating a bit simpler."
Right up there with choosing good food, for many moms, is helping little girls choose what clothes to wear. So Sarah McIlroy who grew up with a seamstress mom who taught her to make her own clothes realized her two daughters loved spending time with online design games; she also noticed the rapid growth of customized products. To meld her two observations, she launched Fashion Playtes in 2009, an online company which allows young girls to design and order reasonably priced tops, skirts and pants with appliqués, rhinestone trims, even adding personalized labels. "Because we launched near the holidays in November 2009." says CEO Sarah McIlroy, "we were so overwhelmed with more visitors than we imagined that our server promptly crashed. But we quickly upgraded and got back online, with the knowledge we have a product consumers want." While the garments are made in Asia, the customizing is done by a family-run factory "in our backyard in Massachusetts." In 2010 Fashion Playtes sold over 13,000 garments and gift certificates; by 2011, CEO McIlroy anticipates fourfold growth. "Our goal," she says, "is to revolutionize how girls and their moms shop -- they can design their own clothes conveniently online at home, and then connect and interact with "designers" with similar interests."
And for busy moms who try to work at home, help is on the way. Single mom Beth Marcus, a veteran entrepreneur who sold a previous start up venture to Microsoft, found she needed more free time to work at home while her daughter was well occupied. So she developed Playsmrt, a software program "that provides age appropriate educational sites, movies, activities, games and videos with no parental supervision required and no added commercials. Even children as young as two can navigate via stickers and screen icons." Still in beta mode, the site, which will charge parents an annual subscriber's fee of $49, will be launched next month.
Who says moms have no time for themselves!