There's something about parenthood that sparks ingenuity. Maybe it's the sleepless nights when you can just let your brain wander and concoct. Or the everything-is-newness of it all. Add in the "I'm going to go broke and better come up with a blockbuster business idea to pay for this kid" motivation, and the bright ideas just flow.
But be warned: Getting a new biz off the ground is not easy -- only one of our "success stories" has earned profits. Still, some of the savviest new products come from the minds of ordinary moms and dads who saw a problem and figured out a way to fix it.
Meet a few of our fave mom and pop whizzes.
Meet the Inventor: Melissa Radcliffe of Denver, Colorado
Family: Husband Hamilton; kids William, 7, Nora, 4, and James, 2
Bright Idea: Peekaru Original, a fleece vest that zips over a soft baby carrier and the person wearing it
Inspiration: "My daughter was 5 or 6 months old when it started to get bitter cold," says Radcliffe. "When we took my son to preschool, I'd put her in a baby carrier and I'd wear my husband's extra-large jacket zipped over both of us. Not ideal."
Biz 101: "I figured I could make a better-fitting jacket for the two of us, so I pulled out my sewing machine. I ended up with a Frankenstein fleece vest; it didn't look so great, but it kept Nora and me warm. I got so many compliments walking around town that I contacted a designer to make the vests stylish and manufacturable; then I started selling them by word of mouth."
The Name Game: "It comes from 'kangaroo.' Also, my son likes to play peekaboo in it."
How Long It Took: 11 months; launched September 2006
Start-Up Costs: Between $75,000 and $100,000, evenly split among materials, manufacturing, marketing, and design
It's a Hit: The Peekaru is sold online and worldwide in more than 140 stores. The company was profitable by the end of 2008.
Other Peeks: A long-sleeved Soft Shell; the Ozone, a sun cover; FreeHand Baby Carrier, which can be worn on the front, hip, or back.
Inventor: Mike Barclay of Providence, Rhode Island
Family: Wife Kristin; kids Chase, 5, and Greer, 3
Bright Idea: Burp Armor, an extra-large burp cloth made of sustainable fabric designed with a special weight and shape that molds to your shoulder
Inspiration: "I was in charge of midnight feedings when Greer was a baby. The burp cloth kept falling off, and my shirt would be soaked with spit-up," says Barclay. "It stains and smells awful. I thought, 'There has to be a better way.' "
Biz 101: "I started by cutting paper into larger and varying shapes that I put on myself. After finding a size that we thought offered great coverage, we looked for eco-friendly fabrics. We hired a local seamstress to make samples as we tweaked the shape."
How Long It Took: 13 months; launched December 2007
Start-Up Costs: Between $60,000 and $70,000. "We've spent all our own money, taking out loans, moving to a more affordable neighborhood, and juggling some of our credit cards."
Five percent of proceeds go to the Children's Hospital of Boston.
Inventor: Laura Hamrick of Columbus, Ohio
Family: Husband Chad; sons Jack, 9, Luke, 6, and Ty, 5
Bright Idea: OnTray, a BPA-free, lidded plastic tray you can fill with snacks and snap onto a grocery-cart handle
Inspiration: "While food shopping, I was juggling a container of Cheerios, feeding Ty one at a time, checking my list, and trying to contain all three kids," says Hamrick. "After I had a meltdown in the store, I asked myself, "Why hasn't anyone figured out a way to attach a box of snacks to the handlebar?' Then I thought, 'Why don't I do it?' "
Biz 101: "Thank goodness for the Internet and naps. I Googled 'how to bring an invention to market.' I had a free consultation with a patent attorney, who did a search and discovered nothing already existed like what I wanted to make. He recommended a design company, and we went to work."
How Long It Took: 19 months; launched June 2007
Start-Up Costs: $75,000, self-funded with a home-equity line of credit
Also available at Babies "R" Us and Buy Buy Baby
Inventor: Randy Reid; Sequim, Washington
Family: Wife Dana; daughter Maren, 4
Bright Idea: Mooki, one-piece pajama with the zipper in the back to keep toddlers from undressing themselves
Inspiration: "At around 18 months, my daughter started undressing herself," says Reid. "She'd unzip her romper and before you knew it, she had that thing half wrapped around her neck. Once she got into her poop-filled diaper, and I realized I couldn't take it anymore."
Biz 101: "I hacked off the feet of her sleeper, cut up the collar, and turned it around backwards. She never tried to get out of it after that. I thought, 'I've got to market this.' I worked with a pattern maker on redesigns until we found The One. But it took me a long time to hire a sewing contractor who would work with such a small start-up."
The Name Game: "Mookimoo is the nickname I gave my daughter when she was a baby. Poor kid doesn't realize that she'll be known as 'the girl who pooped in her crib.' "
How Long It Took: 10 months; launched May 2008
Start-Up Costs: Approximately $30,000, to buy material and hire a pattern maker and a sewing contractor. "We used our savings. It was scary, but worth it."
Originally published in the May 2010 issue of Parents magazine.