Caitlin Sykes ' Opinion

Caitlin Sykes is the NZ Herald's Your Business editor

Small Business: Parenthood inspires entrepreneurs

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From easy-to-change sheets to clever bibs, raising children sparks ideas that can launch new companies.

Banging her head while stripping a wet bunk bed gave Diane Hurford the idea for Brolly Sheets. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Banging her head while stripping a wet bunk bed gave Diane Hurford the idea for Brolly Sheets. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Having children is a life-changing experience for most. Tackling the challenges of parenthood leads us on a journey to figure out a whole new bunch of stuff - how to change nappies without unmentionables going everywhere, succeed in getting more food into a baby's mouth than on their clothes, or soothe an overtired one to sleep.

Those challenges, it seems, are fertile ground for entrepreneurial types. This week's focus is on businesses that were inspired by their founders' experiences as parents.

They're often called mumpreneurs, although given there are a fair few dads in their ranks, including one who shares his story in Small Business this week, I've called them parent entrepreneurs.

Diane Hurford is one such business owner. She founded her bed-wetting products firm, Brolly Sheets, after getting sick of banging her head on the top bunk while stripping the lower bunk in the middle of the night while her daughter was toilet training.

Her Brolly Sheet invention - a waterproof, breathable, cotton slip, which goes over rather than under the bottom sheet - meant she no longer had to strip the entire bed, and in solving her problem she saw the opportunity to solve it for others - and a business was born.

It's a startup-heavy sector, but it's not always an easy path to tread, say a number who share their stories this week. Sandy Hayer, for example, set up her business, Tummy Mummy NZ, in mid-2012, just two weeks before her youngest daughter was born, and says finding time to spend on the venture while being a home-based mum to two young children is the biggest challenge.

Brian Ruthie of Clevabib, who designed and patented a bib that helps keep mess off laps as well as fronts, says the time, effort and money needed to set up his venture was huge. Ruthie has a full-time day job, and works on his business mainly after his three kids have gone to bed. But the rewards, anticipated or realised, can be great for family life.

Ruthie's goals include becoming a work-from-home dad, able to spend quality time with his family, within the next five years.

Bianca Richardson, who set up Houdini in 2008 after inventing a device to prevent her daughter escaping out of her car seat, reckons the business has allowed her to achieve a "beautiful, balanced lifestyle".

And the kids can be keen to get involved in the family business.

Joanne Edwards, of startup Kiwigarden, which makes healthy snacks for kids, says her children are the company's official taste testers and have been involved in everything from product development to coming up with the jokes on the back of the packets.

Q & A with Auckland-based Brolly Sheets founder Diane Hurford

What inspired you to set up Brolly Sheets?

I came up with the idea when my daughter Mia was night-time toilet training and sleeping on the bottom bunk.

Every night I'd always hit my head on the top bunk, because a normal mattress protector goes under the sheet, meaning I'd have to strip the whole bed.

I thought if there was something that sat on top of the sheet it would be easy to get off, so I went to Spotlight and made one myself.

A lot of people might come up with an idea, but how did you begin turning it into a business?

At first I was making them myself for families at Playcentre and people were buying them. That's the litmus test. There are 100 great ideas out there but if they can't be made at a price that people can afford, or want to pay, then it's not going to be a business. Then about eight years ago we moved to Sydney and I started selling them at markets. It was a great way to get market feedback and people would come and say, 'I need one for my elderly mother', so I looked at making the product more absorbent so it could work for both children and adults.

I didn't want a product with a vinyl back - the backing on Brolly Sheets is breathable and waterproof - but I did some market research and found it was too expensive to do that in Australia, where we were getting them made. So that's when we started going up to China.

I travel every year to China to visit the factory, which is a small single-storey building with around 20 staff. I knew we had to manufacture in China to keep them at a price people would be happy to pay, but I also wanted to have peace of mind that we use an ethical factory.

We were in Australia for about 18 months and when we came back, in 2008, that's when I set Brolly Sheets up as a proper business. We sold some property and invested the money into a new website, buying stock and advertising. That's when it all came together.

What advice would you give to other parents wanting to tread your path in business?

I talk to quite a few mums who have an idea. A lot of women think, 'If I start a business I'll have the lifestyle I want because I can do it around the kids'. But the reality for me is it took three years of working harder and longer hours for less money than if I'd had a job. But it can be done. You can just take an idea and grow it into a successful business, but you've got to be prepared that it's going to take time.

www.brollysheets.com.

- NZ Herald

Caitlin Sykes

Caitlin Sykes is the NZ Herald's Your Business editor

Caitlin Sykes has been a business journalist for more than a decade, including eight years at the award-winning Unlimited business magazine, where she was writer, deputy editor and, most recently, editor. She currently is the Your Business editor of nzherald.co.nz, specialising in issues relevant to small and medium enterprises in the New Zealand economy.

Read more by Caitlin Sykes

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