From Plant-Based Diapers To Meditation And Easier Access To Better Education, These Female Founders Are Redefining What Parenthood Experience Looks Like

From Plant-Based Diapers To Meditation And Easier Access To Better Education, These Female Founders Are Redefining What Parenthood Experience Looks Like

Any parent who has gone through the tough pandemic period will agree that, at least sometimes, it was easier knowing you are not alone, that there are many parents out there who juggle work and homeschooling, who work at night when the house is quiet and you can finally concentrate (unless you fall asleep), and generally just try to keep their head above water knowing this too shall pass. 

It’s not easy for parents these days. Society sets expectations on us, the family sets expectations on us, but the highest expectations are the ones we set upon ourselves because the truth is – most of us are trying to be the best possible parent to our children all the time. Parenthood is one of the most broadly shared human experiences. The needs and challenges are (broadly) well known and (generally) follow an established pattern, yet new parents still stumble through the journey as if they were the first to do so. How, in 2021, can this still be?

The Community Supporting Innovators Serving Parents 

When Charlotte Michailidis became a mum, she had a bit of a rough start: her son has a rare genetic condition that was unforeseeable prior to his birth. Despite a smooth fertility journey, pregnancy, delivery, and transition home, she nearly lost him at five days old. She ended up taking more time away from work than a typical working mother in the U.S. to support him through his recovery, and that’s when the seeds of the idea for her business – Parenthood Ventures – were sown.  

“Attending baby classes, meeting other parents in the park, I was struck by how many families – even those with seemingly “normal” circumstances – were struggling to navigate the transition into parenthood – in ways that often seemed inherently surmountable with simple and replicable support, services and guidance. And importantly, in forms that are equally accessible and welcoming to parents of any gender, in families of all forms, and that facilitate handoffs between all members of a family’s care team – including relatives and paid carers,” Michailidis, founder and CEO, shares with me. 

In a nutshell, Parenthood Ventures is an ecosystem for startup founders building the future of parenthood. Quickly upon becoming a mother, Michailidis started asking herself – can parents not be better served? She started to reflect on how there could be so much opportunity, so much unmet need – whether measured in hours of lost sleep, cases of depression (or worse), divorces, lost income, or missed opportunity for fun and adventure, for learning and joy. 

Parenthood Ventures just passed 160 startups in the community. 80% of its startups have a female founder, 80% have a parent founder, and 40% have a founder who is LGBTQ+ and/or of an under-represented ethnicity. Stage-wise, they range from a firm idea to single-digit millions in funding. The organization also engages with VCs interested in the sector, and parents themselves, who can provide feedback to innovators as they refine their ideas.

“I realized that, as in any industry, the people best placed to build fit-for-purpose solutions are those who are living (or who have recently lived) the problem they are inspired to solve. So definitionally, in parenthood, they are often parents of young children. And given persistent cultural norms around caregiving, they are mostly female. But the existing infrastructure of the startup world simply doesn’t unlock the potential of these founders.” 

Affordable (And Transparent) Childcare

Upfront – a company that is all about accurate, specific pricing for childcare is on a mission to bring pricing transparency to parent-related industries, with the first being daycares and preschools. For many households in the U.S., childcare costs represent the second-largest expense after housing costs. Upfront makes prices public and searchable on its site so parents can easily find the best options in their budget quickly and seamlessly. With information on more than 18,000 providers covering New York, Boston, LA, and San Francisco (only U.S. cities for now), Upfront is quickly becoming the go-to site for any parent wanting to know how much something costs. 

“Our users are expecting or new parents who want financial value when making decisions about the large expenses in their lives. Since Upfront shows all options for all budgets (for example, daycares vary from $800 to $3300 a month according to our actual data), our target consumer is not specific to income or location,” explains Dana Levin-Robinson, Upfront’s CEO.  

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are approximately 12.8 million families in the U.S. with children under the age of six and approximately 50% of them have difficulty finding childcare. More than 1 million millennials are becoming parents every year, and they expect to find information about childcare online just as quickly as anything else.

The research shows that the two most important factors for parents when choosing a daycare are location and price. Yet, currently, there is no way for parents to search by price. Parents often resort to asking for daycare recommendations from friends and family as well as in social media groups but the recommendations often come without pricing information. Parents also try calling daycares directly but are often unable to get hold of someone or forced to attend a tour before getting pricing information. In the end, many parents are forced to tour a daycare that is not within their budget, causing a lot of frustration and wasted time. When Upfront surveyed parents, they found that 62% of parents end up touring daycares they can’t afford. The company also shares its data with policymakers and nonprofits so they can assess local childcare affordability with actual numbers. “For example, there is still very little coverage to determine how much the $4,000 credit per child Biden’s American Family Plan actually covers. Using our data, we determined that the $4,000 per child covers either 1.7 months of a center-based daycare or nearly three months of home-based. One of our goals at Upfront is to raise parent awareness of home-based childcare options specifically because of how affordable they are (on average 37-40% cheaper depending on the child’s age),” explains Shefali Shah, Upfront’s Chief Commercial Officer. 

Since its October launch, the company has seen tremendous user growth that clearly demonstrates how deep the pain point they’re solving is – it has already helped close to 20,000 parents find the best childcare options for their budget and also built an incredible directory of more than 18,000 listings across New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. 

High-performance, Sustainable, And Disposable Baby Diapers

When it comes to choosing the “right” diaper, often before, parents were forced to compromise. Cloth diapering doesn’t fit into parents’ busy schedules. Natural diapers tout “non-toxic” benefits but aren’t as natural as they appear (i.e. baby’s bum is still touching the majority plastic all day) and tend to have worse performance against leaks. Add to this that diapers are one of the largest contributors to landfill waste, and there’s also a huge environmental toll as well.

So Amrita Saigal, founder and CEO of Kudos, a new high-performance, sustainable, and disposable baby diaper brand, that recently raised $2.4 million in seed funding, too, decided to do things a little differently. “The Kudos customer — generally a new or expectant parent  —  cares deeply about what’s touching their baby’s skin. They are looking for the most non-toxic, plant-based materials that won’t irritate their baby’s skin or expose their baby to chemicals that can have long-term negative health consequences. If the diaper doesn’t work, however, game over. As soon as that first “it’s 3 a.m. and my baby has leaked through their diaper” moment happens, we know parents are going to start looking elsewhere,” she shares with me.  

Babies’ sensitive skin is more prone to irritation and rash than adult skin. In fact, up to a third of babies and toddlers in nappies have nappy rash at any one time. With traditional diapers, even the most natural ones, the baby is sitting in plastic all day which has been proven to contain harmful substances that can absorb into the skin. Kudos is the only disposable diaper where a baby’s skin touches 100% soft, breathable, hypoallergenic, doctor-recommended cotton. Kudos diapers are made with 4x more plant-based components than traditional disposable diapers; these components are sourced from renewable resources like cotton (cotton is actually carbon negative), sugarcane, corn starch, and sustainably harvested trees.

“If all diapers were made the Kudos way, 500 million pounds of plastic would be replaced with clean, unbleached, natural cotton each year, and 2 billion pounds of fossil-fuel-derived diaper materials would be sourced from renewable materials,” concludes Saigal. 

Expert-led Support Groups For Postpartum Women

Nathalie Walton is an unconventional entrepreneur. In 2010, she was introduced to entrepreneurship at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. It was love at first sight. She spent two years studying entrepreneurship, yet, she didn’t dare to follow her dreams. “As a Black woman, I never came across any entrepreneurs that looked like me. I didn’t have the safety net to forgo an income, nor did I have the audacity. I took another path. I spent eight years climbing the ranks of eBay, Google, and Airbnb, where I gradually built the confidence to venture into entrepreneurship,” she starts her story. 

In 2019, Walton had a traumatic high-risk pregnancy. As a Black woman, her experience was far too common. Black women in the U.S. experience unacceptably poor maternal health outcomes, including disproportionately high rates of death related to pregnancy or childbirth – they are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women. 

During pregnancy, Walton came across an app, Expectful, which proved to be an incredible resource during a period of intense stress. “While on maternity leave, I came across an opportunity to advise Expectful. I connected with Expectful’s founder, Mark Krassner, who was looking for the right person to succeed him as CEO, and when we met, something clicked. As a user, a new mother, and a longing entrepreneur, this felt like the perfect opportunity at the perfect time.”

Expectful is a wellness app for fertility, pregnancy, and new parenthood, and as a meditation and sleep platform for growing families, it has helped hundreds of thousands of women on their journey to parenthood. In September 2020, Walton joined Expectful as a late-stage co-founder and CEO. In her first 90 days, she pivoted the company and closed a $4.2 million seed round (with an infant). Expectful’s revenue has grown 150% in the last year. 

“I’m fueled by a desire to create more equitable birth outcomes, in particular, for those that suffer the most significant inequities.”

Better Education For Children With Learning Differences

One in five children in the U.S. have learning and attention issues such as dyslexia and ADHD, but as noted in the report The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5 (conducted by the National Center for Learning Disabilities), 48% of parents believe incorrectly that children will outgrow these brain-based difficulties, and 33% of educators say that sometimes what people call a learning disability is really just laziness.

The last year and a half have exposed massive structural and philosophical flaws in education systems across the globe that fail many children, especially those with learning challenges. Governments cannot move quickly enough. This is why companies such as Braintrust Tutors are harnessing data, technology, and a proprietary approach to boldly fill these gaps in real-time. Founded by educators and parents, Braintrust Tutors is an online marketplace that connects only certified teachers with families whose children have different learning profiles. Its objective is to empower teachers to leverage their skill set directly with the constituents that need them most. In the interest of transparency and accountability, Braintrust Tutors developed robust proprietary technology that identifies and tracks the student’s granular deficiencies and gains after every session. After a handful of sessions, a clear picture starts to emerge, where the gaps lie, and what teacher support will yield the best results.

“My daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia late, and despite resources and connections, we had a difficult time getting her the remediation she desperately needed. Simultaneously, my business partner and co-founder Mara Koffmann left the classroom to start tutoring full-time. She experienced a host of challenges in trying to connect with families and develop her business. After taking stock of the disjointed landscape, we started Braintrust,” shares Jen Mendelsohn, co-founder of Braintrust Tutors. 

Currently, the private tutoring market is vast and very fragmented. With Covid-19, parents involuntarily became their child’s educational advocate because that “classroom” relocated to the kitchen table for the better part of the last 18 months. Accordingly, parents are acutely aware of their children’s issues and are often highly motivated to address them but challenged to find an adequate solution. 

“We think the best way to service those children is to collaborate with institutions and families because when your child is struggling with learning and development – it’s a family issue that, if unchecked, graduates to a societal burden. We engage parents in various ways; one approach is to partner with enterprises and provide access to our services as an amenity. We also work directly with schools, community centers, and summer camps,” explains Mendelsohn. After launching last August, Braintrust Tutors now has hundreds of tutors performing thousands of hours of tutoring support, and, as per Mendelsohn, the demand for high-quality, affordable private tutoring support is “insatiable as parents discover the sustainable benefits it can have on their children’s lives”. 

“The enormity of the opportunity to serve our sector is genuinely mind-blowing. But what’s riskier is the sum of doing nothing. Let’s change that,” concludes Mendelsohn.

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