What's it like to have an idea for a product and to take that idea all the way to production? LaShana Harris is a mother, a lawyer, a business professional, and an award-winning entrepreneur. She's the founder of Babylocity, a Frankfort-based company that develops innovative products for babies of on-the-go moms.
She talked with Tom Martin about the challenges and the rewards of having an idea for a business and then shaping and preparing that idea for the marketplace.
Tom Martin: What inspired Babylocity?
LaShana Harris: Once I had my son, I thought it was very difficult to travel anywhere. I was used to being very mobile. Once I had him, I thought, 'Oh, my goodness I've got to go to the grocery store. What do I need? Well, I've got to take diapers, I've got to take a bottle, I've got to take formula, just in case he gets hungry.'
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I thought about how I could make this easier for myself. And then I thought about the feeding process. Currently, mothers have to have formula in one compartment and they have water in another and then they have a baby bottle. And the spoilage process takes place probably 30 to 40 minutes after the mixture is combined.
I thought about having an all-in-one baby bottle so you didn't have to worry about taking things out of different compartments and mixing in an unsanitary location. If everything was just in one apparatus and you just slid the lever and the formula fell into the water, you could take a bottle anywhere and not have to worry about spoilage. So, that's how I gave birth to the idea of an all-in-one baby bottle.
Martin: And is that the product that's called Mix and Go?
Harris: The Mix and Go Baby Travel Bottle.
Martin: Have you taken that to manufacturing yet or is this still in concept form?
Harris: I actually have two patents now regarding the product and we are working on developing the tooling and the machinery for manufacturing. So, I'm hoping that in early 2015 all families with infants will have access to the Mix and Go Travel Bottle.
Martin: Okay. Back to the tagline, sometimes taglines come easily, they strike you while you're in the shower and boom, you've got it. Sometimes the result of parsing nearly every single word in the phrase to make sure that the message is clear. Which one was it for you? Did it come to you or did you agonize over it?
Harris: It just kind of came to me like motherhood you know. I remember my mother saying, 'LaShana, don't intellectualize motherhood, it comes natural.'
Martin: In 2013, you were chosen to receive the $100,000 Vogt Demo Day Award presented by the Vogt Invention and Innovation Fund. That was on top of a $20,000 development grant that you had received earlier in the year through the Vogt Awards. The fund recognizes the Henry Vogt Machine Company of Louisville, which once was the world's largest manufacturer of forged steel valves and fittings. The fund was established in 1999 upon the passing of the gifted inventor and entrepreneur Henry Vogt Heuser. To say the least, that must have been a very good day in the life of LaShana Harris.
Harris: You know it was a blessing on so many different levels. Being a part of that whole Vogt experience and being new to the entrepreneurial world was just so enlightening. I did not have any background in business development, in manufacturing and Vogt really provided the foundation for me to enhance my knowledge base regarding the whole world of entrepreneurship. Being a recipient of the Vogt Award was just an honor that has changed my life. The honor basically supports innovation and I was actually the only female entrepreneur selected to be a part of that group. Just the fact that they believed in my concept really validated my whole mission.
I think one of the main things that they looked for was what problem does your innovation solve? The problem that my innovation solved is international. Especially those mothers who formula feed. They need something to help make that process easier. And not only mothers, but fathers because I've met a lot of men that are very excited about the bottle, as well as grandparents that keep kids.
Martin: Where did you find the guidance and the mentoring and support that you needed to get you to that momentous day?
Harris: Having graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law, I knew the process of patenting your ideas. So I did my research, found out the name of a great patent attorney, David Carrithers of Bardstown. I consulted him and when I brought the idea to him, he was like, 'Oh, my God I think you might have something here, LaShana.' And so, having an attorney that was really excited about the invention really helped in the whole patent process. But I also had some resources in my family. I have a close relative that is an engineer and he just happens to be the president of Toyota, Wil James. So, you know I did have some resources in my own family that I could consult. I had an uncle that worked for Whirlpool Corporation in Danville. He was a buyer, so he knew all about plastics. I consulted him as well. And then I had an uncle that worked for Colgate. He's a retired Colgate staff person and he's brilliant. So, you know, with all these wonderful minds that I had at my disposal, they answered some of the preliminary questions that I had regarding plastics, manufacturing, engineering.
But, I really think a lot of legwork that I completed propelled me to the next level. I researched everything. I'm a library connoisseur anyway, so I went to the library and looked at books on manufacturing, did research on injection mold, blow mold, silicon, plastics, and products that have to be approved by the FDA because of food consumption.
Martin: I think you were a client of the Lexington Office of the Kentucky Innovation Network as well, correct?
Harris: Yes. I was.
Martin: How did they help out?
Harris: I just did a cold call based on research and came in contact with Warren Nash, he's the director. Warren introduced me to Dean Harvey (Director of UK's Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship) and I did a presentation for them. They looked at their resources and focused on trying to help me take this product to market.
Martin: What challenges have you encountered and overcome as you've progressed with this?
Harris: First of all, establishing myself as a credible entrepreneur. There are not a lot of women that are engaged in manufacturing commercial products. Learning about blow molding, injection molding, steel tooling, aluminum tooling has really helped my credibility in going to manufacturers and talking to them about those particular products.
Martin: Do you have a launch date in mind?
Harris: My goal is to at least have it on the shelves by the first quarter of 2015 — which month that will be, I'm not necessarily sure, it's really depending on how fast the tooling can be made and produced. Right now, we are in the final design phase for developing the tooling. We have completed the iteration for the final product, so we're just beautifying it now, tweaking it. And the engineers working with me are in the process of designing the steel tooling to manufacture the product.
Martin: And are you going to market it to brick and mortar retail or are you going to stick strictly to online?
Harris: What I found in my research is that most families with newborns through infants around the age of 9 months usually shop at a specialty baby store like Babies R Us. My goal is to focus on that delivery channel. So, I'd initially like to sell in those stores and then do some online sales as well.