When you think of famous inventors in history—Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison—unfortunately, very few women come to mind, and even fewer mothers.
But that was then, and things have changed quite a bit over the centuries. Women have come on strong in innovating, creating the likes of windshield wipers, the first bra, disposable diapers, Wite-Out, Barbie and more recently, Kevlar. Today, moms coming up with new products is more mainstream. Our 2010 Leading Moms in Business are certainly evidence of that.
If you think about it, moms actually make the best innovators – always having to be resourceful and work around the seemingly impossible. They’re multitaskers. They juggle numerous part- and full-time jobs and even more kids. And they make do with limited time. All of this forces busy moms to improvise on the fly. The phrase “mother of invention” exists for a reason. Don’t have a booster seat handy? Busy moms use phone books. Can’t find baby’s rattle? Busy moms jingle key chains.
Modern day product inventor Kimberly Davis says this is simply instinct. “When you become a mom, your one goal in life is to take care of this little miracle that you created,” she explains. “Come hell or high water, your baby will make it and you as a mom will make sure of that.”
Busy mom tackles unmet needs
Ironically, Davis’ Hugga-Bebe invention was initially conceived for her 4-month-old nephew when he couldn’t sit upright in his activity center. Nonetheless, her innovative, motherly instincts kicked in and she envisioned—in a reoccurring dream, in fact—a form-fitting cushion that could be adjusted around babies and toddlers to prop them up in high chairs, bucket swings, walkers and more.
Although Davis, 35, knew there was a need for this innovative product, she still conducted extensive research and tests through numerous daycares in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And with only a drawing she’d sketched the morning after her dream, the busy mom created a prototype, secured a patent and connected with a manufacturer in China. In 2008, she launched Hugga-Bebe (ranked No. 2).
This ingenuity to fulfill an unmet need is at the core of every entrepreneur. Many small businesses spring from the need for something that doesn’t exist, reports Intuit’s “Future of Small Business Report: Defining Small Business Innovation”, with the innovators creatively applying their skills to address this desire to make something better. A busy mom’s limited time and resources as well as her unconditional devotion for her child only amplify the innovative characteristic.
If you build it...
“A mom’s natural instinct is to put her family first, making use of all available resources,” explains Joanne Lang, 40, the mastermind behind online family management journal AboutOne.com (ranked No. 25). As a busy mom, “I felt overwhelmed with everything I had to do [yet wanted to] do a better job of preserving my family’s memories, while spending less time recordkeeping.”
Her background in software development and cloud computing inspired her to build a web application where busy moms like herself could easily record and access important family information. “I spent 20 years in technology for businesses and I saw how innovative software saved them time and money and kept people informed,” says the Malvern, Pennsylvania, mom, realizing this was something she needed. “I wanted to give this same ability to busy moms.”
When winner Tereson Dupuy couldn’t find the solution she was looking for, she, too, simply invented it. As a remedy for her son’s severe diaper rash, his doctor recommended cloth diapers, but at the time, there weren’t many options on the market. “I was a busy mom with little time to futz with pins and plastic pants,” she explains, “and [he] wasn’t staying dry. I needed a solution and invented what is now known in the industry as the modern cloth diaper.” In 1999, Dupuy debuted Lafayette, Lousiana-based FuzziBunz cloth diapers (ranked No. 135).
Although Dupuy, 50, has entrepreneurial genes, she agrees with Davis that busy moms have a special knack for “instinctive, creative problem solving,” she says. “As both a mom and entrepreneur, these skills are key to success.”