May 12, 2008
Creative moms find opening businesses that offer kids' stuff pays off
Special to The Seattle Times
Krista Means opened a children's-clothing boutique because she couldn't find a place to buy a cute baby gift in West Seattle. Carol Schiller started Baby Chaleco because she couldn't find a bib that would keep her baby boy dry. Jackie Friedman Mighdoll created Sponge School because she wanted to expose her infant son to foreign languages. And Kat Stremlau opened Tot Spot Cafe in Woodinville because she had no fun place to take her baby during the winter.
These women are "mamapreneurs" — stay-at-home moms or former career women with kids who launch their own businesses, often focusing on child-related services or products after discovering a need that's not being met. "I wanted what every mom wants," said Means, 39, mother of two boys, ages 6 and 2, who opened Georgia Blu in 2006. "I wanted to be home with my kids and still have a life for myself."
More Seattle-area moms — frustrated by rigid work environments, demanding schedules and a desire to spend more time with their kids — are stepping off the corporate track and starting their own businesses, custom-designing a work environment that better combines professional goals and family life.
"The primary reason women launch their own businesses is for freedom, flexibility and control," said Beth Schoenfeldt, co-founder of Ladies Who Launch, a media company with programs in more than 50 U.S. cities — including Seattle — that provides a social network for entrepreneurial and creative women.
Many women also want more passion, fulfillment and creativity in their lives, Schoenfeldt said. She estimates that about half of the organization's 100,000 subscribers are also mothers.
"It's not that they don't want to work hard, it's just that they want to work hard on their own terms," she said. "They want to be their own boss."
Here's just a handful of local mamapreneur-owned businesses.
• See Kai Run (above): flexible footwear for young children. www.seekairun.com
• Georgia Blu: a mid- to high-end children's boutique in West Seattle. www.georgiablu.com
• Baby Chaleco: soft, absorbent, stylish biblike garments for baby. www.babychaleco.com
• Sponge School: offers language classes for young children in Seattle and Issaquah. www.spongeschool.com
• Tot Spot Cafe: a cafe and indoor play area for children under 5. www.totspotcafe.com
• Blue Dress Press: an online company that makes holiday cards and baby announcements. www.bluedresspress.com
• BabyLegs: leg warmers for babies. www.babylegs.com
• Woobee: water-resistant burp cloths, bibs and blankets. www.woobeekids.com
• Bump: an urban maternity-wear store. www.bumptobaby.net
• Twig Children's Boutique: a store featuring modern, Earth-friendly children's clothing. www.twigseattle.com
• Eye Can Art: art kits in a can. www.eyecanart.com
• Crybaby Comforts: rents child-care items by the day, week or month. www.crybabycomforts.com
• Circletime Kids: provides free multicultural and multilingual early learning materials for children. www.circletimekids.com
• Cozy Baby Boutique: provides cloth diapers and natural baby products. www.cozybabyboutique.com
In the past decade, female-owned businesses have grown at twice the rate of all firms, according to the Center for Women's Business Research. Women compose 46 percent of the workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and almost three-quarters of U.S. mothers have jobs outside of the home.
But despite graduating from college in increasing numbers, women still earn less than their male counterparts. In fact, mothers earn 27 percent less, and single mothers earn up to 44 percent less, according to MomsRising.org.
"Entrepreneurial vibe" here
So it's no surprise that women are increasingly trading in their career suits or soccer-mom shoes for the freedom that entrepreneurship provides.
The trend holds true in the Seattle area, which is one of the top markets for Ladies Who Launch. And last month, Fortune Small Business magazine named Bellevue the No. 1 place in the country to live and launch a business.
"Seattle has a great entrepreneurial vibe about it," said Kelly Sharples, co-owner of Blue Dress Press and founder of Northwest Enterprising Moms, a group for the innovative entrepreneur and mother who is working to raise her children.
The organization grew out of an event last year showcasing products and services sold by local, mom-owned companies. At the time, Seattle lacked an organization for women who understand the balance of being a mother and owning a business, said Sharples, 37, who has a 2-year-old son.
Northwest Enterprising Moms now has more than 60 members, who range from women using their kitchen table as an office to owners of multimillion-dollar companies.
Their own stories
Stremlau, 33, who opened Tot Spot Café in March, said the organization provided a valuable pool of resources, from a referral for a bookkeeper to tips on finding commercial property.
"There's no marketing books for us. There's no 'how to open a kid-friendly cafe' " book while keeping your sanity and your marriage, she said.
Before her son was born, Stremlau worked as a program manager for a technology company but didn't feel she could be an effective mom and an effective full-time employee. She now works about 30 hours a week, and her 22-month-old son plays in the toy area of the cafe and takes naps in her office.
Schiller, 41, who founded Bellevue-based Baby Chaleco after the birth of her third child, likes how she can sometimes set up a meeting with another woman who has kids at a children's location so the kids can play while the moms talk business.
"That is unique," she said.
She also likes how her kids see what's involved in making a living. "It's kind of like a magnified 'Take Your Daughter to Work' day."
The mama network
Despite the increased flexibility, some mamapreneurs still work long hours, although they might squeeze them in during nap time or after the kids go to bed. And many find they trade a steady paycheck for an uncertain income.
Not everyone can match the overnight success of Nicole Donnelly, founder of Seattle-based BabyLegs, who, in just three years, went from selling baby leg warmers at play groups to running a 25-person company that sells products in 50 countries. She credits the meteoric rise of her business in part to the "mama network," online parenting groups that spread the word about BabyLegs as a solution to diaper rash.
"I think moms trust each other," said Donnelly, whose daughter was born in 2004. "Everyone's very willing to help and share information."
Some women thrive on following their passion. Jackie Friedman Mighdoll knew she wanted language and culture to be a part of her children's lives, especially after learning of a study about the benefits of exposing infants to sounds from foreign languages. But when she started looking for a language program, she couldn't find one.
So Mighdoll, who formerly worked full-time in new-business development for Vulcan, spent 18 months researching and developing a curriculum. In 2005, she opened Sponge School, which offers classes in Spanish, French, Japanese and Mandarin. She now has locations in Seattle and Issaquah.
"It's my third baby," said Mighdoll, 39, who has two boys, ages 4 and 2.
Although she regularly puts in more than 40 hours a week, thanks to the help of a nanny, she's also able to work around her sons' lives.
"The wonderful part is I'm working on something that I care about and also caring for my children."
Joy Jernigan is a freelance writer in Redmond and has two kids who don't like naps. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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