The Huntsville Times
Need leads mom to idea
Friday, August 15, 2008 By GINA HANNAH Times Business Writer gina.hannah@htimes.com Barbara Schantz invents unique bowl to feed babies with one hand One mom, two hungry babies. What do you do? If you're Barbara Schantz of Huntsville, you invent a bowl designed for parents who are living like a one-armed bandit. After struggling to feed her twin girls with the bowls she found in stores, Schantz, 35, developed a bowl designed to enable a parent to feed a baby with one hand. Her idea emerged from need: Schantz would try to feed her daughters, but some bowls would slide across the table while she tried to scoop out food. With round bowls, she found herself chasing the food with the spoon. The Baby Dipper has a no-slip rubber surface and a sloped interior surface. Its triangular shape provides a collection point where food can easily be scooped out with a spoon. The bowl can also be used by toddlers learning to feed themselves, she said. In 2005, Schantz submitted her patent application for Baby Dipper. She has a provisional patent while waiting for full patents from China, India and the European Union. While waiting in line to present her idea at QVC network's Oprah's Next Big Idea contest, she met a man who helped her find a manufacturer in China to make the bowls. Getting the bowls made to Schantz's specifications took a few tries. One batch had bases that didn't grip well. A second shipment had bases that were too soft. The production line went through four iterations before Schantz approved the way the bowls were made. Schantz is familiar with uphill battles. As a product specialist for Volvo Cars of North America, she traveled around the country, helping the Swedish automaker launch new products at dealerships. That meant she was expected to train salespeople - usually men - about new features. “There was some prejudice,” she said. There was also a lot of travel – three to five days a week – and when her twin daughters were born in October 2004, Schantz left the corporate world to be a full-time mom. Her husband, Hans, is chief technology officer for Q-Track, a company housed at the business incubator BizTech that’s developing an indoor wireless tracking system. “Life isn’t easy with two startups,” Barbara Schantz said, “but we can make it work.” Hans Schantz, who has experience obtaining patents, helped his wife with the paperwork.  He’ll also display the bowls at a trade show for children’s products next month. Barbara Schantz took a FastTrac course through the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama to help learn how to launch her product. “She was a mom who was trying to feed a baby with one hand while holding the other,” said Joanne Randolph, the center’s executive director: “She found a market based on a need.” Schantz got a Small Business Administration loan of $50,000 to help get the business off the ground, money she said is nearly gone, because of patenting, manufacturing and packaging costs. “It’s scary,” she said.  “Fifty thousand dollars – poof!” Now Schantz is looking for ways to balance getting Baby Dipper to market while caring for her daughters – and twin sons, born June 30. So far, she has sold about 50 bowls, she said, mostly via her Web site, babydipper.com.  She has several cartons of the bowls in her home in Big Cove, with more inventory at JIT Services at the Port of Huntsville. Sales, she conceded have been “disappointing, but we didn’t do everything to market them yet.” Since the birth of her sons, she’s pacing herself.  She recently did an e-mail marketing blitz and has bookmarked a lot of parenting related blogs to approach for online sales.  She’ll also sell the bowls at the Agape Baby and Family Fair at the Von Braun Center on Aug. 23 and the MOMsMart (Mothers of Multiples) at Young Nak Church, 7904 Whitesburg Drive, next Friday and Aug. 23. Schantz has also contacted several local stores about selling the bowls. Baby Dipper costs $12.96 for a bowl-and-spoon set, which, with state and local taxes added, comes to an even $14.