Hudson Valley "Moms" of Invention

Two "mom-preneurs" tell their story

They say “necessity is the mother of invention,” and that’s what happened to these two Hudson Valley inventors. Their parenting experience led to creations they hope will make life easier for all parents.

Being organized after baby

“There are so many books about what to expect when you’re expecting,” says Danielle Heller of Saugerties, “but nothing about what to expect after the baby is born, about being organized, or even knowing WHAT needs organizing.” That was the thinking behind the Smart Solutions Toolkit for Working Mothers, a laptop-size box filled with tips and forms, and guidelines on topics like how to prepare for maternity leave, interview nannies and choose child care, plus her own successful plan for negotiating an alternative work option. Before her daughter was born, Heller was a full time professional, whose job included writing legislative material, so creating Smart Solutions was right up her alley.

In fact, it was while she was writing up her proposal for an alternative work schedule that she noticed there wasn’t one already in place, either with her employer, or even online. So, she drafted her own, and to her surprise, her employer agreed. When other parents heard about her experience, they wanted to know more about that proposal and the lightbulb went off.

“I’m not a risk taker at all,” Heller says, a surprising trait given that she’s not only the creator of the toolkit, but founder and CEO of Working Family Solutions, Inc., and has plans to create more helpful parenting items.

Her “no turning back” moment

Her “am I really going to do this moment” moment occurred at the bank when she and her husband went to discuss funding the business. “There was no turning back,” she said. She worked at her own pace, “late nights, early mornings, and weekends when we didn’t have numerous events and activities, and every once in a while I took a personal day from work.” She had lots of support from family and friends, and even used a friend’s baby for the Toolkit cover photo.

The kit is divided into five sections: health and safety, child care, working mother preparation, organizational tools, and alternative work schedule. Within each section are the essentials parents should know after the baby comes. One item Heller made sure to include was a refrigerator magnet with CPR instructions, which stems from her own experience when her daughter began to choke. “I panicked,” she says, “wishing I had something that restaurants have, a poster illustrating what to do.”

A bag for moms on the go

Greenwood Lake’s Sandra Frawley, was struggling with her coat, a diaper bag, and her toddler when she thought, “This is crazy, I shouldn’t have to carry all this stuff.” Frawley was just running a quick errand and didn’t need to carry the entire diaper bag, just her wallet and keys. So, she put her cell phone in one pocket, her keys in another, and a wallet in the seat beside her sleeping child’s leg. But still not satisfied, she began looking online for a bag with space for lightweight items and essentials. Like Heller, when she didn’t find what she was looking for — poof! — the seed for her own invention was planted. Sized at 9½ inches in diameter, 3 inches deep, with fabric straps to attach to car seats and strollers, the SeatPak bag is perfect for the things a parent needs to take when shopping or for a stroll around the block.

But the nudge to really move Frawley forward was winning the Huggies-sponsored contest for entrepreneurs, and the $15,000 seed money with mentoring services.
Like Heller, Frawley works a disjointed schedule: mornings before the kids get up, midday when kids are sleeping, and evenings until midnight or later. Frawley also credits her family for support, especially her husband who, as Vice President, shares the executive tasks.  

At the time this story was being prepared, Frawley was packing for a business expo in Kentucky and Heller was working on another project: a journal for her daughter complete with pictures to chronicle the Toolkit’s creation from a simple box to its present impressive packing. Says Heller, “It’s all because of her that this came into being.”

MJ Goff is editor at Hudson Valley Parent magazine.