When we first reported on Mimijumi almost a year ago
, the baby bottle maker had recently undertaken a vast expansion of production capabilities. Though not yet ready to go public with partnership specifics, the company is looking to make its leap into the mainstream market.
Since investing in Mimijumi in mid-2014, Seahawk Innovation, LLC, an early stage investor and incubator based in UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, has taken control of the bottle maker’s daily operations and moved assembly and distribution to Wilmington. Online sales quadrupled in 2015.
That upward trend could very well continue as the global baby bottle market is projected to grow at 4.08% compound annual growth rate through 2021
. Plastic bottles dominate the market, though the increasing stigma surrounding BPA has caused a widespread transition to BPA-free products
and some countries have even banned bottles containing the harmful compound. This consumer behavior change, along with intense competition amongst 20 prominent bottle vendors worldwide, has resulted in increased partnerships and a huge innovation push.
With a synthetic nipple design manufactured in the same Austrian plant as high-precision Porsche and BMW parts, Mimijumi relies on ergonomics and durability to set itself apart. Where competitors offer nipples with varying mechanical flow rates, the Mimijumi bottle allows babies to control the flow rate without risking nipple confusion, as the baby goes back and forth from bottle to mother. Though a single nipple mold costs between a half million to a million dollars, the company’s most expensive bottle is $29. Four-ounce bottles, eight-ounce bottles, and replacement nipples are available individually, along with two separate multi-bottle kits.
Mimijumi bottles have been tested by more than 300,000 infants in more than 25 countries. While Intermarche, the French-equivalent of Target Corporation, currently retails Mimijumi products, the bottle maker has sold in the US through online and boutique outlets, where its prime early adopter, the recently back-to-work mother, is most likely to shop. The company, however, is in partnership talks to ramp up global distribution toward large retail centers.
From Nashville to Wilmington
Mimijumi was founded by two Nashville physicians, Dr. Frank Drummond and Dr. Bill Colomb, who developed the bottle prototype with designer Lukas Scherrer from 2008 to 2012. Because the cost of a single mold is so high, it took some entrepreneurial talents from Drummond to convince the Austrian manufacturer to accept smaller up-front payments by amortizing the cost of the mold on a per piece basis. Still taking patients by day, Drummond by night grew distribution relationships throughout Asian and Australian markets. Eventually, the founders realized the need for help with daily operations and management.
Enter Seahawk Innovation partner Brendan Collins.
When the incubator invested in mid-2014, Collins became CEO of Mimijumi, and the bottle maker endeavored to reach as many moms as possible through an online, direct relationship, culminating in a mobile responsive redesign of its website. Here, Mimijumi not only looked for market validation, it also gave credence to the “it takes a village” motto by creating a forum-style reviews section for each product. Customers can post feedback and ask questions about products, which are open for answers from other customers and Mimijumi experts alike.
“Before the internet, a new mom used to go to her own mom, or grandmother, to figure out breastfeeding or bottle-feeding and formula,” Collins says. “We spent a lot of time trying to understand how moms purchase online, and how they interact with each other online and through social media. We wanted Mimijumi to be able to interact in those conversations around better feeding, too.”
Given Mimijumi’s international presence prior to Seahawk Innovation’s investment, Collins’ 15 years of private equity experience, split between Europe, Africa, and South America, doesn’t hurt either.
“Part of our investment thesis at Seahawk Innovations is to use experience and global contacts and know-how to reduce the barrier to entry,” says Collins. “Our goal is to get from idea to early adopters, find high-value, high visibility markets that help word of mouth, then find a partner who has the experience and perhaps deeper pockets.”
As Mimijumi focuses on the US, its highest visibility market, the next phase is product expansion. By December 1, the company will add a darker nipple tone to its current offerings. Though not imminent, Mimijumi has also created a product roadmap for pacifiers, sippy cups, breast milk storage bags and storage lids for bottles. It is also in advanced discussions with other companies in the industry who solve additional parenting challenges.
“We solve the back-to-work, baby-needs-a-bottle phase,” Collins says. “But there are plenty of other challenges like potty training and finding a babysitter.”
Mimijumi’s current production capabilities stand at one million bottles per year. But, if it’s serious about existing and new product development, that may be all about to change.