Woman First

The Mompreneurs
Mothers, often inspired by daily life, are
launching businesses like never before

by Suzanne Koup-Larsen

When a whale swam up the Delaware River three years ago, Debbie Aloi of Mount Laurel, NJ knew it was her sign. The idea of opening Ocean ‘n Motion, an ocean-themed play center, had already come to her, but she had her doubts. As a stay-at-home mom, she hadn’t planned on working or starting a business. She wondered if she was ready for the challenge.

But she figured if a whale could swim that far out of its way, fascinating residents up and down the Delaware, then she could go out on a limb and become a Mompreneur.

Aloi is certainly not alone. The Center for Women’s Business Research estimates that more than 130,000 woman-owned businesses operate in the Delaware Valley, up 60 percent in the last decade. Ellen Parlapiano, Mompreneurs Online co-founder and co-author of Mompreneurs: A Mother’s Step-by-Step Guide to Work-at-Home Success, helped coin and then trademarked the term “Mompreneur” to describe mothers who start businesses.

“Flexibility is the number one reason that moms start their own businesses,” says Parlapiano. She has found that mothers often create businesses and products to solve specific problems they’ve encountered as parents.

“I think women want to be in control of their time and their family life as well as contributing to the family’s income. Working at home allows women to have all of those things,” says Lesley Spencer Pyle, the founder of three mom-business websites, including HomeBasedWorkingMoms.com.

Baby Loves Disco Goes Global

In 2004, Heather Murphy Monteith cooked up a party, something different for herself and her mom acquaintances to do with their young kids.

As a modern dancer, she loved to dance around her living room in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia with her son Max. So why not rent out a space big enough for friends to join in?

Thus was born a Delaware Valley Mompreneur success story. After outgrowing its first location, Baby Loves Disco now moves and grooves on the first Sunday afternoon each month at the Shampoo Night Club on Willow St. between 7th & 8th Sts., Philadelphia. Moms, dads and their kids dance while a DJ plays tunes. Bubble machines, hula hoops and healthy snacks add atmosphere.

Baby Loves Disco quickly became a full-fledged business, at first “operated out of my laundry room,” Monteith remembers. Within a year, she had a partner and expanded to New York City. By the end of 2007, Baby Loves Disco was staging events in nearly 30 U.S. cities and two cities in Great Britain. This year, there are plans to launch in Japan and Tel Aviv.

Blending Work and Family Life
Some women don’t return to their previous jobs because daycare options don’t suit them. Aretha Kitson, a Bear, DE mom, had difficulty finding comfortable and affordable childcare for her kids. This problem motivated her to create what she considers a secure, nurturing environment for kids to learn. When her second child was a year old, she opened her first Kidz, Ink early learning center. Now, ten years later, she owns four centers in northern Delaware.

For Tricia Streit Perez, owner of One Fit Mama, a prenatal and post-partum fitness company in Oreland, PA, daycare centers couldn’t accommodate the very early and late hours that her position as athletic trainer for the Temple Women’s Basketball team required. “I decided my second day back that it wasn’t going to work for me,” she recalls.

So she started a company that offers stroller fitness classes for women getting back in shape after their pregnancies. She believes her new
career perfectly blends her education, her career experience and her family demands.

Many parents, especially mothers, choose to start businesses that can accommodate their family lives better than typical 9-to-5 jobs. Karen Gallagher of Yardley, PA went back to her career in insurance after the first two of her three children were born. But she felt her time was stretched too thin, leaving her unable to give either her job or her family proper attention. “Sometimes you feel like you’re not doing anything well,” she recalls.

When she was pregnant with her third child, she began to consider how she could work from home. Research led her to start the Lollipop Book Club, which provides a book-a-month children’s gift package, complete with lollipops.

For More Info

Home-Based Working Moms is a professional association and online community of parents who work at home and those who would like to.

Ladies Who Launch is a resource for all women, not just moms, running their own businesses.

Mompreneurs Online features articles, shopping, a message board and blogs. www.mompreneursonline.com

The Mommypreneurs is a resource site for moms who have started their own businesses or are planning to.

The National Association of Women Business Owners, Greater Philadelphia Chapter, provides networking and educational opportunities 
to women business owners. 215-628-3875,
Parallels with Motherhood
Motherhood teaches women to sacrifice, and often, to put themselves last. Like parenthood, starting a business is often a figure-it-out-as-you-go proposition that can be tough, especially at first.

Gallagher notes the parallel between the often thankless job of raising kids, for which there is no pay, and the early days of a business start up. For both challenges, says Parlapiano, “you’ve got to be organized, patient, nurturing, and persistent, and able to juggle a lot of balls at once.”

“Ocean ‘n Motion gives me a regular distraction from what can be a very mundane job,” says Aloi of being a stay-at-home mom. Gallagher says she needed something “that was mine apart from them,” and that for her children, “it’s important to see that their mom has interests and aspirations.”

Kitson notes that running one’s own business often requires more hours than working in the corporate world. The boss can’t pass the buck. But neither must she ask permission for time off to see the school parade.

“It takes a lot of work, energy and persistence to maintain a balance,” says Aloi. “If you’re really insistent, you can make it work,” says Perez.

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a local freelance writer.