BETH FYNBO - BUSY BABY MAT

Army Veteran Beth Fynbo Makes Mealtimes Easier for New Parents

As the daughter of an entrepreneur, Beth Fynbo always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, too. She just didn’t know what her big entrepreneurial idea would be.

When the Army veteran had her first child, she knew the time had come for that idea to arrive. As her maternity leave ended, she found herself working full-time and commuting 90 minutes each way. Her schedule left just an hour to spend time with her son before putting him to bed.

During that long commute, she resolved to find an idea that would allow her to set her own hours and spend more time with her son. Soon after, Beth was at a restaurant with her friends whose babies were throwing toys on the floor throughout the entire meal. The babies were cute but distracting. It was the moment that sparked Beth’s entrepreneurial idea, the Busy Baby Mat.

First, however, Beth went to Amazon to see if a product existed that could stop babies from throwing everything onto the floor during meals. There was nothing. In lieu of an existing product, Beth decided to make her own.

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Her first MVP was a placemat that she made by filling a baking pan with silicone caulk. For her next iteration, she ordered a silicone placemat designed to keep pet food bowls in place and glued on suction cups and fishing tethers tied to toys, and she continued to iterate from there. After five versions, she had a mat she could give to friends to test on their children, and it worked.

Beth knew that the Busy Baby Mat was a legitimate product, but had no idea how to turn it into something people could buy. She contacted a friend from the Army to ask for advice, and the friend recommended Bunker Labs. Beth joined Bunker Lab’s Launch Lab Cohort Presented by U.S. Bank and became the eventual winner of her cohort’s April 2018 Pressure Test pitch competition.  

Through Launch Lab Cohort, Beth validated that her idea and product had value outside of her circle of friends and family. Knowing that she had a product-market fit gave her the confidence to pursue more the financially risky next steps of scaling her product.

Along the way, Beth encountered numerous challenges including patenting her Busy Baby Mat, finding a team of product developers that could understand and execute her vision, and finding retailers to carry her product once it launches. Throughout, she’s leaned on a mantra she learned in the military: Adapt and overcome.

 

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“When you’re out in the field, you just need to carry on,” Beth said. “If something goes wrong or you’re missing something, you need to be flexible and tackle challenges as they come.”

The mantra worked. “With this journey, I’ve not at any point been discouraged that I don’t know everything or that something isn’t as expected,” she said. “My first thought isn’t to quit or be down on myself, but ‘What do I need to do to make this work?’”

She found her product developers after attending the North American International Toy Fair in New York. The team is based in Utah and also has an office in China, making it easier to inspect manufactured products before accepting a shipment. The product developers are currently working on a full prototype that Beth can test. Provided everything goes well and Beth can raise the requisite funding, she will move forward with her first manufacturing run of 5,000 units in time for the 2018 holiday season.  

Beth values the network of resources Launch Lab Cohort provided and the in-person instruction from University of Minnesota professor Toby Nord, Bunker Labs executive director Tim O’Neil, and Mike Conroy.

Working with other veterans was also a benefit. Beth spent ten years in active duty in the Army, serving first as a electronic warfare linguist. She learned Russian and Serbo-Croatian and was deployed to Bosnia. When she returned from Bosnia, she re-enlisted as a broadcaster. She was stationed in Italy and deployed to Kuwait and Iraq where she worked as one of the first embedded journalists in 2003. She documented and broadcast news stories that were aired on the American Forces Network.

“Veterans share a certain attitude about life that civilians who have never served or been part of the military don’t share,” Beth said. “It’s a lot easier to communicate and network with other veterans.” Working on her business surrounded by other veteran entrepreneurs, she said, was refreshing.