Huggies Seeks #MomInspired Ideas to Fund

Huggies recently launched the MomInspired Grant Program that will fund entrepreneurial mothers across the United States to help get their child-care business ideas off the ground. Kimberly Clark, Huggies’ parent company, is offering a total of $250,000 in grant money, with up to $15,000 for each individual idea. In order to be considered for a grant, mothers must submit an application online by June 9, outlining “a unique baby or child care product idea that addresses an unmet parenting need,” according to the company’s press release. The program is explained through a dedicated microsite, and community word is being spread through Facebook and Twitter.

Steve Paljieg, senior director of growth and innovation at Kimberly Clark, says that Huggies has been doing a lot of talking with their target audience—the moms who buy their products. The particular reason? Kimberly Clark is on a mission to innovate its product line. “We do a five year business cycle and we’ve identified innovation that takes us beyond the core—diapers and wipes—into something new that defines us a baby care brand,” says Paljieg. Part of the research involved talking to online mommy influencers, one of whom just happened to be Maria Bailey, a former Fortune 100 executive, founder of and a mother of four. “Maria is at the hub of a social media environment where moms are innovating with their own businesses,” says Paljieg. That insight, combined with an interest in the way the Silicon Valley venture-capital market sourced innovation, convinced him that Huggies could both inspire its target market and foster its own innovation by working to enable entrepreneurial moms across the country.

The more research Paljieg and his team did, the more they learned about the challenges that this small but influential sector of moms faced. He cites research conducted by Babson College showing that even though women in the United States are credited with starting businesses at nearly twice the rate of men, only about 3 percent of these female businesses get VC funding. Building on that research, Huggies then commissioned its own study of moms and found that the toughest challenge faced by those who wanted to start their own business was access to capital and financial resources. These moms didn’t need VC-level funding. Most said what they really needed was small seed/start-up money, along with mentorship.

And so the MomInspired project was born. Moms can submit “innovative and viable business and product ideas for prenatal care up to 6 years of age, designed to help make life easier for parents so they can better enjoy everyday moments with their little ones,” and Kimberly Clark will choose the ideas it thinks are most commercially viable and provide the seed money to get them going. This isn’t a one-off commitment, insists Paljieg. “We want to form a relationship with these moms and watch their businesses grow. This is the VC model that we try and stay around as the ideas develop. We’re doing it to make their dreams come true, but also to benefit.”

What the combined scientific and engineering brains in Kimberly Clark’s R&D division make of this customer open-sourcing is anyone’s guess, but Paljieg insists that a good idea won’t be looked down on, whereever it comes from. He points out that the company’s chief marketing officer, Tony Palmer, has responsibility for the company’s innovation, and so the silo mentality that often restricts social-media insights to the marketing or PR team won’t damage the MomInspired project. He notes that there is an “incredible amount of openness in R&D and our innovation.”

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