Archive for the ‘ Grant Recipients’ Category

SitterCycle Wins October Amber Grant

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

We’re excited to announce the October WNN Amber Grant Winner — Helen Adeosun, founder of Sittercycle. Continue reading to learn more about her and her business journey.

WNN: Congratulations on winning the October Amber Grant Award!

HA: Thank you so much, it is such an honor! I am so excited, and I actually was inspired by last month’s winner — the founder of Designr!

WNN: Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of Sittercycle? How did you go from an EdM in Education from Harvard to starting Sittercycle?

HA: Great question! I actually had the beginnings of SitterCycle while I was a nanny the summer before I started grad school at Harvard. I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and work on something very meaningful given my background in teaching and training I started thinking about the educational offerings I could have used to be a better nanny. The children I cared for before I started grad school were on the autism spectrum and so often I felt that there was so much more I could have done to help, and spent the summer researching autism and how to best engage my charges before they headed back to school. My vision for SitterCycle is to help nannies and caregivers navigate providing care and the professionalism that entails. Throughout beginning SitterCycle I have been so fortunate to come in contact with nannies, educators, and entrepreneurs, that share this greater vision. The EdM was actually great preparation because it helped me translate a larger vision into the actionable steps to take to begin building SitterCycle, instead of entering education policy (my degree area) SitterCycle gets to be a part of a professional in home childcare education movement, something we don’t focus on too much in the US. I am so grateful!

WNN: We were surprised to learn there are associations and conferences for nannies! Beyond that, when most think of nannies, they think of wealthy people who hand off their kids to be raised. Can you help dispel that myth?

HA: Yes, it’s absolutely amazing! There are over a million nannies in the US alone, and the families they work with range the gambit and are no means all wealthy. I currently also work as an on call nanny. Nannies are as diverse in their skills, experience, and background as the families that they work with. Nannies work part time, full time, may have transitioned from the business and education world, come from all over the world, and their career is helping to grow a happy and healthy child. I just came back from a conference called Nannypalooza hosted by a career nanny, Sue Downey, and I was inspired by the various households and the diverse skill sets of those nannies. The greater message is dispelling the myth that nannies are babysitters: great nannies are women and,yes, men, who work 40+ hours a week and work in partnership with parents to care for children, successfully manage households, and are indeed professionals in every sense of the word. It’s an incredibly fulfilling profession and we do a lot more to ensure that nannies are fully recognized as professionals.

WNN: Sittercycle is an educational web platform for caregivers. Can you give a couple examples of what a caregiver would learn from Sittercycle.

HA: SitterCycle loves bringing experts to nannies. Our classes find the best experts on various aspects of childcare and we partner to create classes. By the end of this year we aim to launch 4 classes on our site on very distinct skills including nutrition and food allergies, the basics you should know starting out as a nanny, and teaching beginning literacy skills. We have podcasts with special guests including Alan Kazdin of the Yale Parenting Center and from the Dr. Phil Show on discipline to offer skills nannies and parents can use. In 2014, we aim to partner with organizations to host online classes, webinars, podcasts, and many opportunities to learn from experts.

We wish Helen the best of luck going forward!

Thank you for reading.

Christina

Nancy Quan Wins September Amber Grant

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

We’re excited to announce our September WNN Amber Grant Winner — Nancy Quan from San Francisco, California. Check out our interview below with Nancy. Our judges fell in love with her passion, drive and can-do spirit!

 

WNN: Congratulations on winning the September WNN Amber Grant. Please tell our readers a bit about your product and business.

 

NQ:  We are shooting for the moon!… Our product is called Dsg.nr (“Designer”) and it is a collaborative platform for the rest of the interior design industry. In short, Dsg.nr is a low-cost way for small interior design businesses to collaborate with clients, vendors, specialists, CAD artists, and everyone else. Think of it as a cross between Pinterest, Houzz, and Polyvore for millions of independent designers, craftspeople, contractors, students, and individuals who are decorating on a budget.

 

Our startup is 3 months old and we are two people. I am a 28 year old female, born in San Francisco, studied mechanical engineering and product design at Stanford, worked as a product designer, interior designer, restaurateur, got my MBA at UCLA Anderson and just moved back to the Bay Area. I understand the design industry well and see opportunities to improve the way we work with technology.

 

WNN: You actually have two men working with you as well…

 

NQ:  Yes, my partner and CTO is Oscar. He is 41, ex-Microsoft guy, originally from Mexico and a self-made man. He’s an expert programmer.

 

We both love what we’re doing and believe this is going to be a huge success.

 

We are hiring a part-time developer to help build out the search engine that we can tout to the investors we are meeting. His name is Misha, he’s a friend, and in addition to housing (I have an extra room in the house), I have offered him a small stipend for living expenses to get us through the next couple months until we can lock down a larger investment.

 

The WomensNet.net Amber Grant will cover most of Misha’s first month’s stipend!

 

WNN: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

 

NQ:  The tech industry and Silicon Valley is 95% white male (if you’re looking just at the investors and founders). Every day I wake up, pretend I don’t notice it, get out there and pitch.

 

Despite the odds, I have managed to find a few interested investors and have been well-received by the Valley. But it is an uphill climb and every day is the most challenging day of my life.

 

I could return to my previous world, the interior design industry, a female-dominated space, but where would the fun be?!

 

WNN: How did you get into interior design?

 

NQ:  I got into the interior design industry without any prior experience. It was post-recession (2009) and I had just moved to Los Angeles. My expenses were low, my hopes were high, and of course I feared that no one would hire me.

I contacted about 50 firms, and my selling points were: I have my own laptop, I will work for next to nothing, and I am willing to wear many hats and do whatever it takes to keep your company operating during these tough times. (2008 was devastating for most firms.)

 

Creative Resource Associates in Woodland Hills hired me. Over the next few years, I learned a lot about the industry. I got to meet with clients, lead design projects, and problem solve between different stakeholders. I loved it!

 

WNN: What makes “Designer” unique from the competition?

 

NQ:  My idea, generally speaking, is to improve design communication and collaboration, for designers and consumers, with easy-to-use web-based tools. Design is moving from the office to the Internet, but software tools are lagging behind. The software we use to create “mood-boards,” for example, is expensive and complicated and a barrier for most designers.

 

Our product is a web-based application called Dsg.nr (http://dsg.nr) and it will simplify the process of making design boards to improve the fluidity of conversation between designers, their clients, and their teams. The MVP, our design board editing tool, is currently under development and will be released very soon. It will be a free online tool that anyone can use.

 

After we release that product, we plan on building a collaboration platform and community centered around interior design. Not only will people be able to connect and interact, but they will also be able to hire teams, sell services, and find help for real-world projects. In the end, more people will have access to design services, and designers will have access to more projects.

 

WNN: We know you’re looking for investors. Should they contact you directly?

 

NQ:  Yes, interested investors should absolutely contact me. (Nancy Quan: nancy@dsg.nr, SF Bay Area.) We are about ready to launch our MVP and it’s going to be huge. We will use that traction to raise a $500,000 – $1 million seed round. Investors who believe in us and approach us early will get a much better deal.

Kiddologic Wins August Amber Grant

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Congratulations to our August Amber Grant Winner – Laurie O’Nion, founder and CEO of Kiddologic – an award-winning baby bib creator.  Below is Laurie’s story.

WNN:  Tell us how you were inspired to start Kiddlogic:

LO: My previous profession, prior to being a mom and entrepreneur, was as a wildlife biologist.  In 2008, I joyfully traded my backpack for a diaper bag to become a full time mom.  My husband and I were indescribably happy and grateful to become parents.

When my first kiddo was 6 months old and transitioning into solids, I quickly realized the need for a better bib.  I tried many of the options available, and found that conventional bibs and so-called ‘full coverage bibs’ on the market didn’t provide true protection of my baby’s clothes and were lacking in comfort, ease of use, quality, and style.   I started my company in 2010 to pursue the development of the bibit-all™ – in order to fill those gaps and that need both personally and in the market, and to create a job that I could do primarily from home with my little guy.

I poured all my research skills into learning, planning, and implementing the many ‘moving parts’ of the business that were necessary to take my product to market.  I didn’t have a business background, but I had always been a problem solver with an innovative nature—necessary qualities in a mom and in an entrepreneur.

WNN: How long was it before you launched your product?

LO: I launched the bibit-all™ at the ABC Kids Expo in October 2012 and began filling orders in January 2013.   The bibit-all™ is currently sold in 17 independent retailers, on Amazon, and on the Kiddologic website.  The bibit-all™ is poised to take off at a significant rate.  Large retailers including Babies R Us, Bed Bath and Beyond, Fred Meyer, and Walmart Canada have contacted me with interest in carrying the bibit-all™.  Kiddologic has the infrastructure in place (such as a manufacturer capable of efficiently producing large quantities, warehousing and fulfillment center with EDI) to meet large orders from mass-market retailers.

The bibit-all™ has already won four prestigious product awards.  It is a Parent Tested Parent Approved winner, a Mom’s Choice Award gold seal winner, a Mom’s Best Award winner, and a BabyMaternity Magazine Award winner (named 2013 Top Choice of the Year for the bibs category).  The bibit-all™ also received rave reviews from bloggers with significant social media following.  The word is getting out!

WNN:  What’s your long-term vision for Kiddlogic?

LO: Kiddologic’s mission is to offer “the best of basics” – products that are smart, practical, and fashionable solutions to the universal challenges of parenthood.  My focus is on improving the most essential baby care items that parents use every day.

This is an under-served niche in the distribution of juvenile products, as much of the innovation in the industry takes place in baby ‘gear’ categories such as strollers, car seats, high chairs, etc.   Baby ‘basics’ is a very attractive niche, as the market and demand is very large for the mandatory staples in baby care – especially when fresh new solutions to the current limitations in these basics are presented.   In addition, these primary care items are in a price range that make them ideal baby shower gifts, which broadens the market substantially.

I have an exciting plan for growth, with a consistent stream of new products to offer in the future.  I intend to grow Kiddologic into a trusted brand that is known for functional innovation, excellent quality, and modern style.   My vision is to  1.) expand the bibit-all™ line and 2.) grow the company’s product offerings and distribution to be a leader in the market of ‘baby basics’.

WNN:  What are your plans for the Amber Grant money?

LO:  I’ll use the Amber Grant toward making a strategic expansion of the bibit-all™ line that will significantly increase its distribution.  I plan to expand the bibit-all™ line to include a trendier fashion line that will appeal to the thousands of higher end baby boutiques.  This will allow Kiddologic to offer the fashion line exclusively to independent retailers (boutiques) and the original trio of solid colors to large mass market stores, establishing two thriving categories of wholesale distribution.

This strategy is a solution to one of the biggest challenges in retail – acquiring and keeping specialty stores as customers while, at the same time, securing mass market distribution.  Sometimes, specialty retailers will drop a product when it makes the leap to mass market distribution, because they feel they can’t compete with the bigger box stores in terms of price, and that the product is no longer unique enough for their customers if it is widely distributed.

Both of these categories of wholesale distribution (specialty retailers and big box stores) are vital to the growth of Kiddologic.  To grow the Kiddologic brand on a substantial level, I need national recognition, which means getting in front of the mainstream consumer in larger mass market stores.  At the same time, specialty retailers nurture the Kiddologic brand on a more intimate level by validating a standard of excellence in quality and style.

The Amber Grant obviously would not completely fund Kiddologic’s two-pronged approach to growth (establishing and growing both specialty and mass market channels of distribution), but it will be a significant and much needed component.

Build & Imagine Wins July Amber Grant

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Congratulations to Laurie Peterson, winner of the July 2013 Amber Grant Award! Laurie is the founder of Build & Imagine, a constructable playset toy company for girls. Laurie has combined her expertise in the toy industry with an entrepreneurial spirit to create a truly unique product.

LPeterson

Through Build & Imagine, Laurie enables young girls to bring out their inner architect with configurable playset pieces. The product line will offer a variety of different settings and scenes to be constructed and interacted with, encouraging girls to use their imagination every step of the way.

We caught up with Laurie to find out more about this fascinating project:

WN: Laurie, congratulations on winning the July Amber Grant Award!

LP: Oh wow, that is excellent! Thank you so much!

WN: What are the differences in which boys and girls play?  And how can you fill in the in the void for girl’s toys?

LP: Construction/building toys such as Legos and Lincoln logs are the fastest growing category in the toy industry. Historically, these toys have only served boys. The themes, marketing, and play patterns have been catered to boys’ interests. Girls are really missing out because construction toys develop important spatial and design skills that are prerequisites to succeed in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). There is a huge market opportunity to develop more construction toys for girls, and a compelling mission to serve.

To succeed in the girls’ building toy category, a lot more needs to be done than to turn existing construction toys pink. You have to design for how girls play, and in the process give girls more options than they have in today’s princess filled aisles. The guiding principle I am using is that construction should facilitate rich storytelling and imaginative play.

WN: Do you have any partners in this project?

LP: I have a very talented children’s book illustrator signed on to the project that I will announce in October. Her characters and scenes are normally stuck in the pages of a storybook, so I am excited to bring them to life as toys in the hands of a girl and her imagination. I also have very talented friends from more than a decade working in interactive companies around the Bay Area. Copywriters, designers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and strategists have pitched in their personal time to help me. In the next 6 months key partners I’ll need to develop include a manufacturer and retailers.

WN: Can you tell us a bit about your educational background and how you got into developing toys?

LP: I was fortunate enough to be around people pursuing careers in interactive toys and games when I was in college. Before that I never even considered it as a possibility. I was on a biology track at UCSD and kept seeing my college roommate working on really fun multimedia projects. I decided to take a class with her, and after finishing my final project 2 weeks early (because I was too excited to wait), I switched my major to interactive art and did my senior thesis on video games for girls. Following college, a classmate of mine invited me to join him at Leapfrog, the leading educational toy company. After my first (and second) product there won Toy of the Year, my mother commented that a career in toys suited me because, “I’ve always been a big baby.”

WN: Do you have plans to launch a website devoted to the product?  Is this where your products will be sold?

LP: I plan to do a kickstarter campaign in October to generate awareness with product evangelists and raise much needed funds. When my kickstarter campaign goes live I will also put up a website at www.buildandimagine.com where I will do presales, and eventually, real sales. I’ll meet with retailers at ToyFair next February, and have my line in specialty and gift stores for holiday of 2014.

ReFresh Wins June Amber Grant

Friday, July 5th, 2013

Congratulations to Eliza Becton and the ReFresh team, winners of the June Amber Grant Award!  Eliza and her 3 partners are on a mission to help consumers kick the habit of buying disposable water bottles, while changing the economics and sustainability of how bottled water is sold.

How are they doing it?  By designing and building a network of water vending stations that sell water in reusable bottles. After you’re done, you can deposit the bottle back into their machine for a partial refund, then the machine automatically cleans the bottle for storage and next use.

In comparison to traditional water bottlers, ReFresh produces bottled water at the point of sale to minimize transportation and energy costs, while eliminating extra plastic waste.  They solve the key pain points of feeling wasteful by buying bottled water, and also having to remember, carry and clean your reusable water bottle.  ReFresh provides pure, filtered and safe water that drastically reduces the consumer’s carbon footprint.

We caught up with Eliza to learn more…

WN: How has your educational background helped you and your partners in business?

EB: My education has definitely played a role in helping us get to where we are. As a mechanical engineer and designer, I’m able to make technical decisions while always thinking about the user experience. I need to make sure the machines we’re building not only function correctly and efficiently on the inside, but are also attractive and intuitive to use. I use my learnings from Yale and the RISD’s Graduate Industrial Design Program every day. However, I also think there is nothing more important than relevant experience and the ability to learn quickly. We are all lucky enough to have incredibly supportive institutions and alumni communities from RISD, Yale, MIT and the MIT Sloan School of Management cheering us on. It certainly helps when you are ingrained in an alumni community that embraces entrepreneurship and ambition like they do at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and within the Yale, RISD and MIT Alumni Association Networks, but our collective past projects and work experiences have been critical to our ability to make important decisions.

WN: Can you tell us more about how you found partners willing to help you, and how much support you give each other?

EB: Sean Grundy (a team member) and I were introduced in September by a classmate of his from MIT Sloan School of Management who knew that we were both passionate about sustainability and startups. We began researching, applying to accelerators, and revising our business model based on the feedback we received. Seeing glimmers of success and recognizing that we couldn’t take on such a huge project alone, we recruited Frank Lee and Teddy Toussaint to our team a few months later. Frank is Sean’s best friend from Sloan, and he has an extensive background in marketing and manufacturing – two areas that are crucial for our success. We met Teddy, a mechanical engineer from MIT, at a business plan competition (which we were so excited to go on to win), and he instantly clicked with the team and our mission. Teddy is our all-star mechanical engineer and has incredibly valuable experience having just finished designing and building a patent-pending smoothie machine.

We genuinely support and rely on each other every day. Our decisions are almost always collaborative, and never made in isolation. It takes the full team to make sure that our business model is sound in terms of engineering, design, marketing, and economics.

WN: Is the machine on your website a prototype? How has the test marketing gone?

EB: The machine currently on our website is actually a decade-old, souped-up snack vending machine. We’re using it to sell reusable bottles and partially reimburse consumers who return them. The market test has been interesting. It’s taken a few weeks to raise awareness for what we’re doing, but we’re starting to get some traction. We’re testing out different pricing models, different types of bottles, etc. to better understand users’ preferences. What we learn will definitely go straight into improving our business plan.

Simultaneously to the market testing, we’ve administered surveys and user interviews to validate our hypotheses and understand our users further. In such a marketing-heavy industry, it’s important to know who our ideal user is and what really matters to them. After this, we can adapt our existing branding to really hone in on the best possible branding and messaging.

Please stay tuned because you will see our first prototype on our website by the end of the summer! At this point we hope to take it and start testing with industry experts such as the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), which is the professional organization for vending machine operators.

WN: Are the water bottles made of glass?

EB: Glass is a material we are considering in the future. Currently, we are using a collapsible, reusable, BPA-free plastic bottle which we will wash and reuse within our system to reduce waste. We also are encouraging our users with incentives to return to our dispensers and refill their bottles on their own, thereby saving yet another plastic bottle from ending up in a landfill.

WN: Wonderful! We’re so excited to see what’s next for you and your team.

EB: Thanks again for this great opportunity! On behalf of the ReFresh team, we are incredibly honored and appreciative!

Tillie Polish Takes Home May Amber Grant

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Congratulations to Andrea Matillano-Funkhouser, winner of the May Amber Grant Award! Andrea and her 2 sisters are the founders of Tillie Polish, an organic, toxin-free nail polish start-up.

Andrea and her sisters combined their entreprenurial spirit and passion for cosmetics to create Tillie Polish all on their own. We caught up with the Pittsburgh-area winner to find out more about this fascinating business.

WN: Andrea, congratulations again on winning the May Amber Grant.

AM: Wow! We are beyond touched and just so excited that you choose us as the winners! This grant will just help our business so much. We are so truly thankful and ecstatic!

WN: Tell us a little more about Tillie Polish, and how you came up with the idea.

AM: Tillie Polish is a business that my sisters and I started in November of last year. We all love nail polish, but we don’t love the fact that there are so many chemicals and toxins in nail polish that are bad for you. We decided to create a formula that is free of the four main toxic chemicals often found in polish. We also wanted polish that was long-lasting and trendy. We enjoy working together to create a product that people of all ages can use and not feel guilty about putting on their nails.

Over the past two years, we have developed a slight obsession for collecting different polishes. After trying so many different formulas and brands, we started to see which aspects of each that we liked and disliked. We thought that maybe we could create a formula that combined all of the qualities that we enjoy about nail polish!

WN: How do you come up with the colors?

AM: This has to be one of our favorite parts of the whole process! We like to research the upcoming nail polish trends to give us some ideas for colors for our upcoming lines. We also ask our customers which colors they would like to see in future lines to get a nice idea. Then, we try to picks colors that coordinate well with each other and the season.

WN: Where is the polish made?

AM: Our polish is made in the United States. We work with our manufacturer in Florida.

WN: Are there any other non-toxic polishes on the market?

AM: There are a few other brands of polish that are non-toxic. The thing that sets us apart from all of the other brands out there is that our polish is affordable. Many times, non-toxic polishes are very expensive. We didn’t want our customers to have to sacrifice affordability in order to have a healthier option for their nails.

WN: What are your plans for the grant funding?

AM: Our plans for the funds are to purchase more inventory. We often sell out of our polish quickly. There are some stores and salons that want to purchase our polish, but we just cannot fulfill their orders based on our current inventory.

WN: What’s the best part about being in business for yourselves?

AM: We love that fact that we get to work together in this business. We hear from women every single day that they are inspired to see three young women who are entrepreneurs. We believe that women, no matter what age they are, should pursue their dreams. There is nothing more rewarding than creating your own business and working for yourself!

Thanks for reading about our latest Amber Grant winner! We hope you find Andrea’s story as inspiring as we did.

Christina