Written by Andrew Seale
If you ask Hayley Mullins where she got the idea for SleepBelt, a hands free skin-to-skin baby support system, you’re apt to get a painfully candid response: “I dropped my child.”
“She was asleep on me and I took my hands off of her and she fell to the floor,” recalls Mullins, a mother of two.“My husband and I went over to the ER and I thought ‘oh my god, they’re going to take my child away’ but the doctor told us it happens all the time.”
Which is scary, admits Mullins. And also proved enough to spur the special events coordinator onto a different path. Immediately after the hospital, Mullins began testing out everything on the market for holding babies, from slings to wraps, to baby-wearing shirts, to carriers. “I turned to my husband out of frustration and said ‘I just want something that belts my sleeping baby to me,’ ” says Mullins.
So she approached her sister Ashley Wade and the two of them brought the SleepBelt to life over the course of six months, tapping into their network to develop the prototype and ensure all the paperwork was in order to protect their intellectual property.
Along the way, Mullins met Sheena Redpath, founder of MSH District (Make Sh*t Happen) a fashion startup fund. Redpath connected them with a new manufacturer and they officially launched SleepBelt.
“Within five weeks of launching the product we had our very first hospital inquiry – a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) nurse from Mount Sinai hospital contacted us and said they'd been looking for something like this,” says Mullins. Responding to the demand, they developed the Joeyband, a hospital focused version of the product. Shortly thereafter, the brand got the nod from La Leche League international, the world’s largest breastfeeding organization.
The company manufactures in Toronto and purchases the fabric locally. “We need top quality products… we're working with premature babies and newborns and moms that may have just had a c-section so we need our quality to be top of the line.”
Outside of the MSH District’s hackathon, which the company was a part of, the fashion startup fund has also helped with developing future designs for expansion and connecting the SleepBelt founders with both leading business and industry experts. Mullins and Wade have also drawn support from Toronto’s startup ecosystem, specifically women-focused networks like SheEO, which has a global footprint.
“We’re one of their five Canadians ventures for this year,” beams Mullins. Through SheEO, she’s really learned the power of “the ask.”
“We have to make an ask every month and reach out to the network,” she says. “Most people are so concerned that somebody is going to steal their idea and the fact of the matter is, nobody has that kind of time or energy that.” If you’re really worried – put an non-disclosure agreement in place, says Mullins. “But if you make the ask, generally you get the help.”
Photos: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)