By Phyl Newbeck
Sometimes family can inspire great business ideas/Sometimes great ideas can be found close to home/Lugging around a bulky baby carrier is enough to wear down any parent. When Doug Hartwell’s daughter was young, he found himself frustrated with the available options for child carriers. As a mechanical engineer with a background in design engineering, he decided to combine his sewing and engineering skills to create a better alternative. Initially it was just an idea that he filed away in a folder with dozens of others, but in April 2012 he took the entrepreneurial plunge, resigned from his job, and founded Bitybean.
Hartwell worked in several different industries after college and eventually ended up at General Dynamics. “I’ve always been a hands-on tinkerer and inventor,” he said. “I used to take everything apart as a kid and even at a young age I was able to fix things.” As an adult, Hartwell seeks ways to improve existing products. “Everywhere I look I see problems,” he said. Among those problems were the weight and bulkiness of baby carriers. Looking for something lighter and more compact, Hartwell took out his sewing kit and got to work. He enlisted his friends and their children to test prototypes until he was happy with the result. The Bitybean carrier is only eight ounces and folds down to the size of a water bottle. “If I’d known the energy was like it is, I would have done it sooner,” he said. “It’s so fulfilling to be working on your own project and watching it unfold. It’s come a long way in two and a half years and it’s great to be part of it.”
Bitybean had a fortuitous start at the national All Baby and Child show in 2012. One hundred and twenty companies entered the Innovation Award competition and Bitybean was one of only ten finalists. Since then Bitybean has received awards from Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy Magazines and the New York Baby Show. The company is located in a business park on Ferry Road in Charlotte. While the neighboring businesses may not have similar missions, Hartwell is happy to have other people with whom he can discuss ideas. He met his design partner through the complex.
Bitybean’s mantra is “cleverly compact baby products.” In addition to the baby carrier, the company makes two accessories, and additional products may soon be added to the line. Seventy-two stores across the U.S. from Florida to Washington, including a dozen Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) locations carry the Bitybean line. The company has distributors in Australia, Japan and Singapore with product assembly at a small factory in Vietnam.
Hartwell has invested a lot of time and energy into his fledgling company, but he enjoys the work. “It’s definitely a labor of love,” he said. “It’s easy to get excited about it. At the end of the day, we’re interacting with moms and babies and it’s definitely higher energy than being part of a bigger corporation.”
By Phyl Newbeck