After Kim Johnson’s daughter Aimee slipped off a chair while trying to join her mother at the worktop, Johnson searched the internet for something to elevate her child while keeping her safe. Nothing proved to be suitable so she came up with the idea for FunPod, a stand-alone child safety unit.
Putting the idea into practice wasn’t easy. ‘The male-dominated nature of the industry meant that it took me five months to actually find a manufacturer who would take me seriously,’ she says.
Gaining a foothold
By a stroke of luck, a husband of a friend turned out to be a manufacturer of children’s furniture for day nurseries and the ball was set rolling. Launched in November 2006, the FunPod is now sold in seven countries worldwide and has won nine awards.
According to a survey from BT Business conducted earlier this year, starting a company is a dream for one in ten mothers, with 62 per cent saying that choosing the hours they work was the biggest reason for wanting to start up.
Gwendolyn Carrié had been an investment banker for 13 years when she became pregnant with twins. ‘I always felt my job was incompatible with being a mum,’ she says. So she decided it was time to pursue her dream of being a shoe designer. She went to classes and worked as an intern, learning her trade in a factory.
Her business got going in 2008 and survived the worst economic crash for 20 years, although her grand plans for the company were hindered by marital problems. ‘To make things work you need a supportive spouse and, sadly, I didn’t have one,’ she says. A divorce followed and Carrié’s wholesale business suffered as a result, but she has persevered and now her boutique in London’s West End is gathering momentum as a luxury women’s footwear brand.
In control – being your won boss
Starting a business is often billed as a route to freedom and flexibility for the working mum. Toni Eastwood, training director at online business resource Everywoman, says: ‘The option of running their own business enables women to be their own boss and be more flexible in their work patterns, allowing them to incorporate both work and childcare into their regimes.’
The reality is that this “freedom” comes at a price. US-born Kelly Lees launched upmarket stationery company Jane Press after realising that she couldn’t find the type of products in London that she was used to across the Atlantic.
‘I first started in my living room in Belsize Park,’ says Lees. ‘Neither of my two children were at school yet. Some days I had help with the children and some days I had to juggle them and the business.
‘Because I was working from home, there was no transition period between work and seeing the kids, and right after I would put them to bed I would immediately go back to work. It was very hectic.’