Charles Dunlap Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Cortney Pettit has created a unique product for moms who are nursing. She's developed her own version of milk and baby food freezer storage trays. The milk trays are leak-resistant and silicone-based so that frozen, 1-ounce portions of breast milk can easily be preserved and then popped out as needed.
When Cortney Pettit, of Fayette, gave birth to her first child, she sought a way to safely store the breast milk she had expressed.
The solution was single-use plastic storage and a stand-up freezer. Since Pettit was environmentally conscious, she and her husband, John, knew there had to be a more sustainable solution when she had their second child. She found milk portion freezer trays, but even those came with design issues.
The couple wanted to come up with a better solution. They developed their own version of the milk and baby food freezer storage trays.
"My husband always wanted to be an entrepreneur," Pettit said. He works as a mechanical engineer. "Growing up, my parents ran a lot of businesses, so I knew exactly how much time was involved."
Pettit wanted to make sure whatever business they started, she would be able to commit the necessary time. She is a pharmacist along with her baby care venture.
There already were milk trays on the market, but Pettit and her husband wanted to improve on the design, noting a direct competitor uses a hard plastic tray that makes it difficult to remove frozen milk or baby food and is not dishwasher-safe.
The redesign led to the creation of Tiny Tot Innovations, which got off the ground in November.
"We had announced the company publicly in October," Pettit said.
Their line of milk trays are leak-resistant and silicone-based so that frozen, 1-ounce portions of milk can easily be popped out, she said. They also are dishwasher-safe.
"I was breastfeeding, so it was just a natural fit for us to start the first product and develop the company around that," Pettit said. "Our trays hold two more ounces per tray than our competitor does."
The milk trays are sold online through the Tiny Tot website, Amazon and at five regional retailers:
Abbey's, 101 Market St., Glasgow McAdams' Ltd., 1501 Old Highway 63 South, Columbia Paisley BowTique and Floral Design, 106 South Church St., Fayette Rosebuds Baby and Kid Boutique, 503 E Nifong Blvd., Suite A1, Columbia Whaley's Mommy and Me - Before, During, and After, 3526 Amazonas Drive, Jefferson City
Making the pitch Pettit made her pitch April 29 for a $5,000 prize from the Missouri Women's Business Center so she could grow her business. She was selected as the first-place winner.
This spring marked the first time the center held its own pitch competition. Megan Matthews of Coach Matthews Driving School in Columbia received the $2,000 second-place prize, and Tracy Titmus, owner of Broadway Bean + Vine in Ashland, received the $1,000 third-place prize.
The contest was judged by Luana Fields of Hawthorn Bank; Jay Sparks with Regional Economic Development Inc.; Tracy Homquest of Accounting Plus; Zola Finch with RMI Business Finance; and Jill Dudley, owner of 34th Street Marketing.
Six female business owners pitched their start-up business or continuing business idea for the chance to win $5,000. That group had been whittled down from 33 applications. Applicants had to be in their start-up phase or in business for less than three years.
The target market for Pettit's products are new, environmentally-conscious parents and their family members, since people will always have children, she said in her pitch, noting the baby care market is growing.
"I was legitimately shocked when they said I was the winner," Pettit said. "I have never competed in any pitch competition before so I didn't know what to expect."
The center was glad to hold the contest, Director Jessie Yankee said.
"We work to help women start and grow businesses," she said. "The biggest thing we see a lot of is people who need access to capital for their business."
Competitions like the one held by the center give the community a chance to see what is happening with entrepreneurship in the region, Yankee said.
"We were able to supply some start-up or growth capital to our winners," she said, noting Pettit understands her target market.
"She really understands what her customers are looking for and the differences she brings from Tiny Tot and her competitors. She had the major pieces of a solid business plan."
How will the money be used? Pettit is getting ready to launch the next product in the Tiny Tot innovations line of products: reusable food pouches for things like baby food, applesauce or yogurt.
"They can be used for anyone like toddlers all the way through elementary-school-aged kids," she said.
Food pouches are on order and should arrive within the next month. The money from the grant will help launch further products.
A majority of the funds will go toward the prototyping of a new baby bottle design.
"The bulk is going toward the (baby bottle)," Pettit said. "Some of the money will be used to increase our inventory and buy in larger batches."
Since Tiny Tot Innovations was completely self-funded up until the pitch competition, they had to restock product in smaller batches.
How have people learned about Tiny Tot? A majority of Tiny Tot Innovations marketing has been by word of mouth, Pettit said. The company also has a Facebook page for advertising and feedback.
"We didn't put any funding into advertising or marketing because we knew we were going to rebrand," she said.
When Pettit first started, the company was known as Tiny Tots, but it is now transitioning to Tiny Tot Innovations.
This rebranding has included a new logo.
"We just completed the rebrand not even a month ago," Pettit said. "Now we are going to devote some money toward advertising and figuring out the best way to do that."
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