New York Times

The Unmet Needs of Motherhood Bring Out the Entrepreneurial Spirit
New York Times
October 2, 2003
By Melinda Ligos

A new wave of professional women is leveraging pregnancy into business opportunity.

They had not expected to become entrepreneurs. They had promising careers to return to, even if some of them had been laid off in the creaky economy of the last few years. But as they approached motherhood, then cared for their newborns, they kept wondering why nobody had made a product they wanted but could not find.

And then they decided to make it themselves . . .

. . . Julia Beck, 36, . . . got the idea for her company at classes she attended when she was pregnant with her first child. Her teachers gave her a list of items to buy for the big day, she said, but “I was very large, and the thought of running all over town to find these products tired me out.” In early 2000, a year and a half after giving birth to a girl, she started Forty Weeks, a Potomac, Md., online supplier of products to help women in labor. Its biggest seller is a “labor comfort kit,” with items like fluffy washcloths, massage oils and breath mints for birthing partners. “I didn’t go into this blind,” Ms. Bromberg said. “I felt like I had the business savvy to pull it off.”

As her company’s only employee, Ms. Bromberg, a former magazine consultant, does most of her own market research. She follows women into the lactation rooms of baby supply stores, butts into conversations between mothers with baby carriages at the local Starbucks and accosts women in toy stores, all to get ideas for new products.

While she declines to reveal sales figures, she says they have risen steadily by 15 percent a year, and in February she opened a consulting service for start-ups in maternity and baby products. A frequenter of industry trade shows, she says she has noticed a new sophistication in the mothers who start maternity and baby products businesses. A few years ago, many of them were “one-hit wonders, who came up with a fun idea and put it out in the marketplace” but did not do much to extend their brands, she said.

Now, the entrepreneurs she runs across at such events are more likely to have been high-powered executives who stumbled upon a great idea after having babies. These women often have specialties, like finance or legal expertise, that help them gain a bigger piece of the $5.4 billion baby products market.