Smitten startup aims to seize the right growth opportunities | Business Observer

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The past 12 months for Pip & Grow, a cause-based, for-profit company that makes and sells a bassinet designed to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, have mostly been about awards.

One is the 2018 Small Business Grand Champion from business support group SCORE Association. Selected from a cohort of 102 small businesses nationwide, Pip & Grow was recognized for its revenue growth (400% year-over-year in wholesale), financing and effectively using social media to share their story. The award included a $15,000 prize from Sam’s Club. Another award, also sponsored by SCORE, is national outstanding retail small business.

The next 12 months, co-founder Lauren Hughey says, will be about how to turn those awards — and the startup’s surge of momentum — into making Pip & Grow a thriving enterprise. (While profitable, company officials decline to disclose revenue figures.)  

Pip & Grow’s core product is the Smitten Sleep System, a 2-pound, durable portable bassinet. About the size of a legal file box, the patent-pending Pip & Grow system comes with a firm mattress, cotton sheet, adhesives strips and carrying handles. While somewhat new in the United States, the baby box concept has been around for years, company officials point out, including in Finland, where the government gives one to the parents of every newborn.

“I think 2019 is going to be great for us,” says Hughey, a Sarasota resident who, in addition to Pip & Grow, works for DreamLarge, the philanthropic arm of Sarasota digital strategy firm AtLarge. (Pip & Grow is based in Portland, Ore., where co-founder and CEO Amber Kroeker lives.) “This is when we could go from a small company to a big-girl company.”

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Pip & Grow traces its start to an annual weekend getaway in September 2015 in Sedona, Ariz., with Hughey, Kroeker and fellow co-founder Kate Compton Barr. It was there where Kroeker, who works in infant safety, told her friends about her product. The child injury prevention program coordinator at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, Ore., Kroeker developed Smitten after seeing multiple babies die from sudden infant death syndrome or suffocation.

Pip & Grow executives Amber Kroeker, Kate Compton Barr and Lauren Hughey have high hopes for a big 2019.

Kroeker’s challenge? Turn the life-saving box a viable business.

Compton Barr and Hughey signed on, and in October 2016 the trio introduced the box at the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas. Looking back, Hughey realizes how inexperienced she and her colleagues were, not even totally prepared to take orders.  

But since then the company has grown in myriad ways, including trademarks, provisional patents, finding U.S.-based manufacturers, utilizing search engine optimization, prototype refinement, supply chain, logistics planning and more.

Much of that learning curve, says Hughey, is smoothed out by the company’s SCORE mentor in Sarasota, Jon Stuart. “He gives me honest advice, even if it’s hard to hear,” Hughey says of SCORE. “He helps me identify obstacles and figure out solutions to work around them.”

The work, and subsequent awards, with SCORE has also led Pip & Grow to another spot: a steady parade of national attention. It’s been written up in Forbes and parent-focused publications. It’s also received multiple calls from potential investors, money that could go toward product development, marketing and a host of other initiatives.

‘We know we have something really great. We are not making widgets. We are saving babies.’ Lauren Hughey, Pip & Grow

While flattering and validating, Hughey says the company is at a crossroads, in a sense, while considering investments and the broader future. The three founders, she says, want to be sure they can utilize the funds the right way — knowing awards and grant money is way different than angel capital that expects timely returns. “Is it rocket fuel,” Hughey wonders, “or is it something we aren’t yet ready for?”

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Hughey, meanwhile, pushes on short term while the long-term strategy looms. Several new products are coming to market in 2019, for example, and the company plans to do significantly more digital marketing. “We’ve been doing teeny tiny social media campaigns,” Hughey says. “We are about to cast a wider net.”

The 2019 goal list also includes developing deeper contacts with hospitals and medical organizations to increase awareness of the box and decrease industry misconceptions. The company also plans to attend parenting industry trade shows and conferences.

Anytime Hughey gets overwhelmed with the possibilities, she considers the reasons she jumped to help Kroeker in the first place. “We know we have something really great,” says Hughey. “We are not making widgets. We are saving babies.”



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