One evening in 2008, a new dad in New Orleans was multi-tasking: taking care of his crying newborn, while trying to put together his newborn’s four-part bottle—which seemed too complicated to the sleep-deprived father, a doctor who needed his own sleep.
The dad-doctor, Dr. William Colomb, mentioned his frustrations with the bottle to his then Nashville-based colleague, Dr. Frank Drummond, who also had experience in design, along with a fancy business degree from INSEAD, an international business school outside of Paris.
The two doctors put their heads together and came up with a new baby bottle called “Mimijumi,” a cuddly and motherly-sounding word. Drummond said the name reminded him of the French words for mommy (maman) and ‘I love you’ (je t’aime).
“I tell people it means mother’s love,” Drummond said.
Drummond pulled in a designer, San Francisco-based Lucas Scherer, and after years of design trial-and-error, study of the female breast, and a global search for the safest and best materials with which to craft the bottles, the team put the finishing touches on Mimijumi in 2012.
The Wilmington connection
When the bottle hit the digital market, it was a success, and the doctors, both psychiatrists, couldn’t keep up with the demands of being doctors by day and entrepreneurs by night. In 2014, Seahawk Innovation, which is based at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, invested in the bottle and took over its management.
“We took the company from being a product company to being a problem-solving company,” said Brendan Collins, the CEO of Mimijumi and a partner at Seahawk Innovation.
The bottle is designed to perfectly mimic the breast, allowing the baby to switch seamlessly between breastfeeding and bottle feeding, Collins added. That solves the “bottle rejection” problem that commonly assails babies, who are confused by the difference between the bottle’s nipple and mom’s.
“When a baby breastfeeds, the baby controls the flow [of milk.] The milk is only released when the baby actively latches,” Collins said, adding that the bottle “mimics the way breastfeeding functions.”
Babies are not the only beneficiaries of the bottle. It’s been very empowering for mothers, Collins said.
“It means mom can go back to work, to the gym, to date night with dad. The baby will happily bottle feed when mom is gone, and then happily return to the breast,” he said.
“Every day in my inbox, I’ve got a handful if not a dozen Moms [who say] ‘You saved my career, my marriage. It’s one less thing that I have to learn about,’” Collins added.
The World Health Organization recommends that babies breast feed between six months and a year because it confers nutritional benefits, disease protection and aids oral development.
“The reality is that 80 percent of women in the U.S. start to breast feed, and then that number rapidly decreases over three and six months,” Collins said. “The resounding message I was getting from women was, ‘I need to go back to work. I can’t have my baby come to my office every two hours to be breast-fed.’”
The Mimijumi bottle, he said, “allows moms to have it all.”
Collins himself has three young boys — ages 6, 4 and 2 — all of whom used the bottle. His wife was also able to go back to her banking job.
“Feeding is really the first challenge that parents face,” Collins said. “You assume that it’s all going to go smoothly. What happens is that it almost never goes as you plan it. Your baby refuses to latch, or develops colic; or you get mastitis as a mom.”
The global marketplace
A Mimijumi bottle can’t entirely prevent those problems, but it does reduce the likelihood of colic or bottle issues, Collins added.
The bottle also has a 100 percent safety record, and it’s made of high-quality materials that are free of BPA (bisphenol A) and BPS (bisphenol S)—chemicals that are known to disrupt hormones, which can cause disease. The bottle is also made without latex and lead.
The bottle is made in Austria—by the same manufacturer that makes performance parts for Porsche and Mercedes.
“It’s U.S.-designed and European-made,” he said. “That really resonates with people.”
They have assembly and distribution centers in Germany, the U.S. and the U.K. Initially, the bottle was very popular in Latin American countries, Malaysia, and Australia. The U.S. is now its biggest market, followed by Europe, Collins said. Last year, the bottle was introduced in China.
It costs $29, which is more than the average baby bottle—but it’s meant to last a lifetime. Drummond used the same bottle for both of his kids, who are now three and five.
“A lot of moms give them to friends (hand them off), or younger siblings,” Collins said.
The company also refurbishes bottles for charity organizations such as Baby2Baby, so low-income families receive free bottles, Collins said.
“That’s a message that really resonates with [donating] moms,” he said.
Those mothers have become the company’s best ambassadors, Collins added — albeit virtually. The bottles are only sold online, which its makers see as the most cost-effective way to market them.
Now the goal, Drummond said, is to reach pediatricians and penetrate mainstream baby culture.
“We’ve reached hundreds of thousands of moms, and that grows every year,” Drummond said. “We’re not just for picky babies.” he said.