Manasa Mantravadi, MD, is on a mission to replace plastic wherever children are eating. She created her company, Ahimsa, after a chat with her fellow pediatrician mom friends. “We were discussing the latest American Academy of Pediatric policy statement that highlighted the harmful effects of plastic on children’s health,” she said. “They recommended avoiding plastic to serve food and rather use glass or stainless steel. My friends were all frantically trying to find solutions to replace their kids’ dishes – and I remained calm because I was already using traditional Indian steel dishes in our home. I, like many Indians, grew up eating and drinking from stainless steel – and my own mother insisted on using them for my children.”
Mantravadi realized she had the solution right there in her own kitchen. So she created Ahimsa, a line of stainless steel dinnerware for kids.
“When I decided to create products to help parents follow the recommendations, I also wanted to infuse evidence-based medicine into the designs so that parents could easily introduce early healthy eating habits,” Mantravadi said. “We give guidance in our clinics but now I had the opportunity to design tools for parents to actually help raise healthy little eaters at home.”
Anne-Louise Nieto and Hanna Chiou both grew up in bilingual households, but struggled to figure out how to raise bilingual kids in their own homes. They connected over the fact that there weren’t many available resources to help them do so.
“We knew so many parents like us,” Nieto said. “But on an institutional level, U.S. foreign language education starts in middle or high school, despite all we know about how young kids learn language so much faster. Child development experts say 85% of the brain is developed before 3 years old, so why do we wait so long to try to expose them to other languages?”
They noticed that the only families who seemed to succeed in teaching their children dual languages were those who had live-in family or caretakers who spoke the target language in their homes. So Nieto and Chiou created Habbi Habbi as a way to ensure all families who were interested could have their children constantly exposed to another language.
Habbi Habbi is a series of books, cards and other games that teach children languages through play. Using an electronic wand, children can tap the different images on the items to play an audio sound of the word or phrase in both English and the language being taught (right now the products are available in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Korean, and Hindi.)
Lena Shahbandar, MD, treats women with pain in and after pregnancy. After enduring debilitating back pain during her own pregnancy and struggling to carry her babies in the car seat because of it, she created the nessl baby carrier.
“I was frustrated because back pain is so often dismissed in pregnant and postpartum women, but it impacts around half of all pregnancies,” she said. “Nearly 25% of these women have a disability as a result. One day I was treating a friend of mine with back pain, and as she was leaving, I told her that I would carry her car seat for her so she didn’t have to lift it. As I was lugging that car seat, I reinjured my back. That’s when I decided the world of infant products needed to change for the sake of parents’ health.”
“Back pain is a major health issue in this country and if I could move the needle on it, we could help peoples’ lives substantially,” Shahbandar said.
Attorney Lisa Myers was determined to breastfeed her baby even when she returned to work at her male-dominated law firm. The odds were stacked against her – more than 60% of mothers say they stop breastfeeding before they intend to, there’s a significant lack of parental leave available in the US, and the logistical efforts associated with pumping when returning to work all factor into the decision to stop breastfeeding, according to the CDC and NIH.
But storage of Myers’ pumped milk was also an issue. “We’ve been forced to lug around cheaply made storage coolers with 1970s technology,” Myers said. “Moms who need to or want to work, or even those who want to be away from their babies for more than a few hours were forced to use coolers filled with single-use plastic. This adds to the huge cost and ongoing guilt we already feel as parents during the first years of our kids’ lives.”
This frustration is what led Myers to create Ceres Chill, which is essentially a high quality thermos for long term breastmilk storage.
“Moms need fewer bags, not more. They need less to clean, not more,” Myers said. “They need reliable storage to last at least 15-20 hours. They need something simple that they can easily bring through airport security, have on their desk, leave in their car or just pop in their bag for the day.”
Now Myers is on a mission to find ways to help moms never have to worry about safely storing breastmilk or formula again, even when traveling. “Mom guilt is very real and can be so destructive,” she said. “But I learned it is also a powerful motivator for positive change.”
The chaos of early parenting truly seems to serve as optimal training for entrepreneurship.
“Parents make the best entrepreneurs because they are constantly running into problems with their children, and they have to solve them with imperfect information,” Shahbandar said. “That is exactly what entrepreneurship is. You take a chance on something and make due with limited resources because you believe strongly in your why. I can’t think of another endeavor that runs you through this exercise more than parenting.”
“Parents are epic problem-solvers,” Myers pointed out. “We often are faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, but we must be relentless to meet our children’s needs. We are all new to parenting and keeping tiny helpless people alive. There is simply no other choice except to be resourceful and continue doing our best with the limited resources we have. We are motivated on the most primal level to solve problems that stand between us and our children’s health and joy.”
“At every turn, parents are coming up with ideas for all the moment to moment problems they face,” Mantravadi said. “That is what an entrepreneur does – solve a problem to improve the lives of others. That’s why the proverb ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ gives a nod to mom after all.