Archive for the ‘ Grant Recipients’ Category

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.


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 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.


Nighty Night Nursing Light Wins April Amber Grant

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Congratulations to April Lowell and Patricia Gilbert, winners of the April Amber Grant! They are the founders of Pink Magnolia LLC and the Nighty Night Nursing Light.

For almost 20 years, they have aspired to be small business owners. They’ve shared a vision for numerous ventures, from thoughts of owning a women specific work-out facility in high school, to owning a restaurant in college. It wasn’t until motherhood that their true passion became evident. In the interview below, we see that passion shine.


WN: Who came up with the Nighty Night Nursing Light idea and was it inspired by necessity?

AL: Necessity is the Mother of Invention for sure! The opportunity for Patti and I to become partners coincided with the birth of my second daughter. While serving as Director of Services for a boutique, I gained professional knowledge about pregnancy and breastfeeding. The difficulties many moms experienced during nighttime feedings, as well as my own experiences, was the inspiration for the development of the Nighty Night Nursing Light. Patti has led a successful corporate career for 15+ yrs with a proven track record of success in Marketing and Sales for a Fortune 500 company. She is currently expecting her first baby in July! We developed the Nighty Night Nursing Light with a true understanding of the breastfeeding mom’s needs. Thankfully, we have been afforded this amazing opportunity to create a product to help support night time breastfeeding.

WN: Where is the product currently made? And what’s the reason behind moving production to the USA? Will production costs increase the price of your product?

AL: The Nighty Night Nursing Light is currently manufactured in China. Sourcing production in the US has been challenging. We are working hard to keep costs down, so we can avoid passing along a cost increase to our retail partners, and in turn, avoid increasing consumer costs. Moving manufacturing to our home state of NJ will allow for greater quality control, and faster turn around time for production. And we feel strongly that our customers will agree, made in the USA adds value. It’s a good feeling to support our local economy.

WN: Is the NNNL patented?

AL: We do have appropriate intellectual property in place for the Nighty Night Nursing Light.

WN: Can you tell us what other products Pink Magnolia might be launching? Or is the NNNL enough on your plate for now?

AL: Pink Magnolia will be launching additional products in the newborn care/breastfeeding realm. We are unable to share at this time, but stay tuned!

Exciting times are ahead for April and Patricia. Best of luck to both of them moving forward!

Compassion Travel Worldwide Wins March Amber Grant

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Congratulations to the March Amber Grant winner, Kristina Harutoonian! Kristina is the founder of Compassion Travel Worldwide.

Kristina is truly a one-of-a-kind entrepreneur. Combining her knowledge of the tourism industry with her passion for humanitarian work, Kristina formed Compassion Travel Worldwide. Through her business, she offers the unique ability to let others take unforgettable travels to foreign countries. During this time, teams will find leisure and recreation activity, but also have the opportunity to do some good in the destination city.


We caught up with Kristina to find out more about Compassion Travel Worldwide.

WN: Kristina, congratulations on winning the March Amber Grant Award.

KH: That is so exciting! Thank you very much!

WN: How has the customer response been to your business?

KH: There has been a lot of support and interest in traveling with CTW, and I have been overwhelmed by the positive response. I think people are excited to experience a trip where they will have the opportunity to serve the communities and feel a sense of connection and fulfillment, but also be able to enjoy the adventure, culture and beauty of foreign countries.

WN: Can you tell our readers about a memorable experience of a person you met in your travels that have inspired you to move forward with Compassion Travel?

KH: We have just returned from our trip to Brazil, where one of the things we did was offer our help and support to the charity Esther’s Children. We met numerous young girls, many of whom had been saved from the trafficking industry. Their stories of perseverance, gratefulness, and hope were incredibly moving and challenged me to not ignore the problem of human trafficking, but rather be willing to face that sometimes we do not have the answers. But that does not mean there is no hope. One of the teenage girls named Veronica had grown up in a very abusive household, and though she had had a very hard life dealing with much injustice, she was extremely confident, joyful, and dedicated to studying so that she could graduate and pursue her professional dreams. I think it would have been easy for her to give up and probably no one would have blamed her. Nevertheless, she clearly had no desire to do so and that really impacted me. The founders of the Esther’s Children, Emily & Jenn Sutherland, witness these kinds of stories daily and though it is mentally and emotionally challenging, they refuse to give up on these girls. It is truly amazing to see how the empowerment of women can transform communities and bring healing to the broken.

WN: So you don’t necessarily dislike leisure travel.  You just don’t think people should focus singularly on leisure when they travel.  Is that a fair assessment of your attitude toward travel?

KH: I have always been a fan of leisure travel and have had the pleasure of working in the hospitality industry for a number of years. I have loved visiting other countries since I was a small child, and I believe spending money in foreign nations can support local businesses and job creation. However, I have also always felt that I wanted to do more with my travels and I noticed that everywhere I went there was a need that stirred my heart to compassion. In an effort to bridge together these two desires, I created Compassion Travel Worldwide so that people could start submerging themselves into international communities but also enjoy leisure travel. I think that humility, integrity, and balance are key and the most important factors in creating this business successfully.

WN: Tell us where you hope Compassion Travel is in 5 years

KH: I hope that in 5 years CTW has a strong network of charities and personal relationships where people can feel connected to one another with a common passion to travel and serve. I would love to host conferences where individuals, groups and families who have traveled on our trips or support the causes come together and share the impact on their own lives. Lastly, I would love to attend a UN conference as a travel ambassador…but that could take longer than 5 years 🙂