Stephen Paljieg, Senior Director, Corporate Growth and Innovation for Kimberly-Clark, says he was shocked to learn that there are 6 million entrepreneurial moms in the U.S. The number showed great promise for a concept Paljieg was considering a few years ago to crowdsource new product ideas for Kimberly-Clark’s Huggies brand from its customer base.
Clearly there are a lot of people buying Huggies diapers and wipes who have great ideas. And considering the fact that less than 3 percent of all venture capital dollars go to women-owned startups, Paljieg realized the best way to get input from mompreneurs would be to offer them what they needed most: financial resources to get their ideas off the ground.
Paljieg described the Huggies MomInspired Grant Program at the Crowdopolis Big Apple meeting in New York this week. For women who have business or product ideas “inspired by the joys of motherhood,” the program, which Paljieg says will call for a new round of applicants this May, could be a great way to get cash as well as some mentoring and validation from a billion-dollar organization.
“There’s a massive discrepancy between where innovation is happening and where money is going,” Paljieg says. “Women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men. If Huggies is a brand that is going to help moms, we need to help solve this problem.”
In the four years since it launched, Huggies MomInspired has fielded 1,800 grant applications and awarded nearly half a million dollars in funding to 30 recipients. Paljieg says the program is also “changing how consumers think of our brand” and has brought in "north of 58 million positive brand impressions.” Winners, he says, also become excellent ambassadors for the brand.
Applicants to the program are asked to answer a set of questions designed to show they have a real business plan and “didn’t just step out of the shower with a product idea,” Paljieg says. But there are very few strings attached to the $15,000 grant, he says. “The idea is to advance the business prospects of the entrepreneurial mom. That they know better than we do how to do that is one of our design principles.” Kimberly-Clark asks that, in return for the grant, the product will feature the Huggies brand name conforming to the corporate design principles. And, if the winner decides to look to divest the business or take on investors, she agrees to have her first conversation with Kimberly-Clark.
Paljieg says his team arrived at the $15,000 sum by asking mom entrepreneurs what would make a difference. “That amount was what would be transformative for many moms,” he says.
Among the Huggies MomInspired grant winners are many great ideas: Allison Phillips designed the Tilty Cup, a sippy cup reconfigured to let kids get the last drop of juice out without turning the cup upside down and risking a spill. Amy Baxter, a pediatrician in Atlanta, designed the Buzzy Pain Relief bee that numbs the spot with vibration and cold before a needle shot. And Romy Taormina created PsiBands, acupressure tools for relieving morning sickness, and will be on an upcoming episode of ABC’s Shark Tank to seek further funding for her business.
All of the winners exemplify Paljieg’s theory that moms start businesses “because they have an answer that can make the life of the mom next door and down the street better. It’s in moms’ DNA to share that way." He adds, “The money along the way helps, and the grant we provide changes their business. But the business is enabling them to fulfill an emotional need to reach out to help other moms.”
In addition to cash, the businesswomen also revealed that they need business and product development knowledge. So Paljieg's team created a mompreneur mentoring program that matches the women with Kimberly-Clark experts, such as professionals from its design studio to offer guidance on package design.
“The moms get access to top talent,” Paljieg says. “But the win for us is that we get better employees.” He says interacting with the women is not only a “shot in the arm” for Kimberly-Clark’s staff, but “they learn again how to think like entrepreneurs.”
Learn more about the Huggies MomInspired Grant Program here.