3 Pittsburgh entrepreneurs and a Pittsburgh company making life easier for local parents
Moms are known for their caring, hard work, ingenuity, patience, creativity and commitment. And often they channel those same qualities into successful businesses. Meet three local entrepreneurs — and one innovative tech company — showing Pittsburgh just what moms are made of.
Elizabeth & Clare Best: Millybutton
Eight years ago, Elizabeth Best of Sewickley was a new mom preparing to return to her job as an architectural designer. One of the challenges she faced was breastfeeding as a working mom. Her clothing was a particular point of frustration. Best wanted to continue wearing her own wardrobe to her corporate office, and breastfeeding clothing was expensive and difficult to find. She resorted to holding her shirts up while breastfeeding and worrying about stains.
One day, Best’s mother Clare offered a solution: “My mom took a chip bag clip and clipped up my shirt,” says Elizabeth. “It was our a-ha moment.” The two got to work immediately, working on designs and making prototypes.
The Bests’ kitchen-table project soon became the Millybutton, a magnetic clasp that safely holds clothing out of the way while moms are breastfeeding or pumping. The Millybutton is made of silicone, safe for all fabrics, and — when not in use — can attach to a diaper bag or wrap around the wrist. In addition to keeping clothing out of the way, it also gives moms the extra hand they need to position a baby to latch properly or to hold a pump.
To build their business, Elizabeth and Clare have been taking advantage of the region’s many small business resources for several years. They worked with the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, TechShop in East Liberty, SCORE and the Sewickley Library, and conducted countless focus groups with local moms.
The pair has also made an effort to work with local female- and mother-owned businesses like Pittsburgh Plastics, the female-owned company in Butler that manufactures the Millybutton.
“There’s a lot of girl power behind this product,” says Elizabeth.
Currently, the Bests are raising funds to make the Millybutton available to moms in Pittsburgh and beyond. It will soon be available online, as well as in local retailers like the Brambler Boutique in Lawrenceville and Mommy Gear in Ligonier.
Helen Behn: Spand-Ice
Helen Behn also created a product to solve a problem that many women face. A busy mom suffering from back pain, Behn scoured the shelves for a product that would provide some relief but allow her to maintain her schedule.
“I didn’t have time to lie down for a half hour three times a day, so I was making all of these contraptions to ice my back while I walked my dog or washed the dishes.”
Behn didn’t find what she was looking for so she decided to create it herself. The final product is Spand-Ice, a line of relief wraps that can be worn underneath or outside of clothing and can be used to apply both ice and heat.
One product is the Maternity Relief Wrap, available at spandice.com, designed specifically for pregnant women and the type of pain they experience. It focuses on low- and mid-back pain, lifting up the baby bump and putting less stress on the back. It’s also perfectly positioned to provide support for the growing baby, and it helps women maintain good posture while pregnant.
Customers have responded with high praise, says Behn.“Women tell me that this is what they’ve always been looking for. I’m passionate about offering a homeopathic treatment that can help them manage or relieve pain. Pregnant women are a highly underserved population, and I’m so happy to give them a better option.”
Amanda Mawhinney: My Koala Pouch
Amanda Mawhinney is a mom and blogger who started the My Koala Pouch blog three years ago to help other parents overcome some of the same challenges she experienced. On My Koala Pouch, she writes about creating healthier families and fun activities for kids and adults.
More recently, Mawhinney became a published author with her first book Frugal Family Fun, released in March, and her second book Finding Mom, which launched this month.
Similar to the content moms find on the My Koala Pouch blog, Finding Mom aims to help moms take care of and develop themselves. The book helps women identify their “mom personality” and better understand different aspects of themselves in the past and the present, as well as taking a look into the future.
“Moms are so busy taking care of their families that they forget to take care of themselves,” says Mawhinney. “I feel that self-care is extremely important for moms and that all family members benefit when a mom is taking care of herself. I’m trying to provide moms with the tools and resources they need.”
Finding Mom is available on Amazon and from all major book retailers in both ebook and paperback version.
4moms: Self-Installing Car Seat
Pittsburgh-based consumer technology company 4moms also grew out of a local entrepreneurial spirit. Since 2005, it has been on a mission to deliver innovative products that make life easier for parents. The brand’s latest offering is the world’s first self-installing car seat. Through robotics technology and advanced sensors, the car seat guides parents through the installation process with visual and voice command. It installs itself correctly by automatically leveling and tensioning, verifies the installation before every ride and then continuously monitors its status during use.
As it does with every product it designs and manufactures, 4moms focused its efforts on helping parents overcome big challenges they face in their daily routines.
“We found that most moms didn’t feel confident that they could install a car seat themselves…and we also learned that parents were never 100 percent sure if they had installed the seat correctly,” says 4moms spokesperson Amie Ley, who cites statistics showing that car seats are installed incorrectly four out of five times. “When we saw this staggering statistic and the issues that parents experienced with their car seats through our consumer research, we knew that we could make it better,” she adds.
It took five years for the 4moms team — made up of robotics engineers, software developers, tech experts, as well as industrial, visual and user experience designers — to take the self-installing car seat from concept to reality. The result is a revolutionary product that gives parents complete peace of mind every time they put their baby in the car.
The self-installing car seat is now available on 4moms.com, as well as buybuyBABY, Amazon and select specialty stores. And, for parents who are interested in helping 4moms develop their next big idea, 4moms is always looking for product testers!