What are some of the things found in your child’s bath? The washcloth? How about toys? Chris Hempel and Denise West has introduced something new for you to add: Grippees and MiniMitts. Sold under the business name, BellyLaf, the mitts have given bath time a new twist.

Grippees are made for adult hands but they’re soft enough for bathing a baby. Young children are also able to get in on the fun with MiniMitts. Since they’re worn on the hands, the ability to teach children how to wash themselves while in the bath has been simplified.

What was the inspiration for your products, Grippees and MiniMitts?

Slippery children taking baths and showers were the inspiration for the product line! I have twin girls who were born premature and it was very difficult to wash them when they were little. Washing them did not get any easier over time because they were very active in the tub. My husband would wash them in the shower and I was paranoid they would slip right out of his hands. Every time he was in the shower holding the babies I thought I was going to have a heart attack on the spot. I thought to myself, “we need something that is super soft that can help wash them but allow us to hold on to them.” The product designed for parents is called Grippees. As the girls started getting older, I wanted to teach them how to wash independently and there was nothing on the market that seemed to work — so the idea of MiniMitts was born.

What kind of customer feedback have your mitts received?

Customers love both products. We have a number of customer comments on our website which you can read. One of the interesting things that we did not think of is that the MiniMitts for kids are being used to cover their eyes to keep shampoo and water out! We designed the MiniMitts to so kids could learn to wash themselves or help wash their siblings — now there is an added benefit!

At what moment did either of you realize that your idea should become a business?

I realized right from the moment I thought of the idea of Grippees that it could make a great product and that a business could be started around it. However, the twins were only a few months old and it was impossible to even consider a business with two babies. I was only getting a few hours of sleep a night — no time to even think about a business!

How long did it take for you to start getting everything in motion?

When Addi and Cassi were about 3 ½ years old, my current business partner Denise West and I were at the park with our kids talking and we start to discuss different ideas for children’s products. We discussed the idea of a removable car seat cover (these are now on the market) but abandoned that idea because of all the regulations with the car seat manufacturers, liability, etc. We started to talk about the idea of the Grippees and a business was born in the park on a hot summer day!

Did either of you always consider entrepreneurship an option or is it something that came to you?

I have started another successful business. I am co-founder of the leading high technology public relations firms in the country — Spark Public Relations. I started the company in the back room of my house 10 years ago after leaving a successful corporate PR career at Netscape Today. Sparkpr is one of the top PR firms handling some of the most well known technology companies in the world.

What has your business taught you?

To follow your dreams and to believe in your dreams.

Would you mind telling us about some of the road bumps you might of encountered while building or during the launch of your business?

The biggest road bump was a personal one. My identical twins, Addi and Cassi, were diagnosed with a rare and fatal disease a few months after Denise and I had started BellyLaf. It’s called Niemann Pick Type C and it’s often referred to as the ‘Childhood Alzheimer’s.” We’re fighting for their lives right now. You can read about Addi and Cassi here — www.addiandcassi.com. I had to make a decision to give up on the dream of BellyLaf or keep going and I decided with my partner to forge ahead. We have allocated 10% of the company’s profits to go to the two charities — The Project Charity — The Children’s Rare Disease Network (www.theprojectcharity.org) and The Hide and Seek Foundation (www.hideandseek.org). We hope to give even more money to charity as our business grows and becomes more successful!

In September of this year your business will reach its first year, do you have any goals you’d like to reach before that happens?

Yes, we’d like to be profitable and start on our next line of products. When you start a product company like BellyLaf versus a service company like Sparkpr, there is a large investment up front to build and make your product and stock inventory. It’s a major investment and you must believe in your idea. We’re getting closer to our goal each day and I think our product is well positioned given the economic situation — affordable, practical, non-seasonal, eco-friendly, educational. The line has all the elements to be a success!

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other entrepreneurs that are thinking about launching a business during this recession?

You need to look at whether you have a product or service based business idea. Product ideas require significant capital investment from development of a product to filing patents. There is a big difference between having and idea and having what it takes to start a full blown business around an idea. You need manufacturing expertise, legal counsel, insurance, website development, sales and marketing teams, etc. Sometimes people just focus on the idea itself without looking at the big picture of what it takes to bring a simple idea to market. If you can dedicate time to your developing your idea as well as put up significant capital (either your own capital or capital you raise yourself), you have a good shot at being successful. You also must be adaptable — the economy can suddenly change or even laws can change. This month the CPSC instituted a whole series of new federal regulations and many companies will be out of business because of the new laws. We are fortunate because we designed BellyLaf’s product with the laws in mind and Grippees and MiniMitts have passed all safety requirements with flying colors.

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