With so many baby products on the market how do you choose what’s best for your little bundle of joy? Especially if they’re not always bringing you joy—screaming with colic, reflux and gas? Asking friends, family and scouring mommy blogs for tips can just confuse you. The new Bare Air-Free baby bottle makes sense of the physical and mental chaos of new motherhood and is a gifting essential. A new Mom, Priska Diaz walked the floors and streets (and eyed the ceiling) while her newborn son screamed with gas after bottle-feeding. That experience became the mother of her invention: a baby bottle that works like a syringe to expel air out of the bottle and keep it out—to once and for all get milk to baby without even a whisper of air. Breasts don’t have air vents, why should baby bottles? Nipples that emulate an actual breast followed, enabling a baby to suckle and draw in milk just as your mini me does on the breast. So you can have it both ways: breast and bottle-feed baby. Revolutionary? Totally. The Bare Bottle lets you feed a baby upright to minimize gas and thwarts obesity with a more natural flow of milk intake. Priska, a Peruvian immigrant who came here at 17 and worked three jobs to pay for college and graduate school and a mother of two, has a master’s degree in packaging design from Pratt. She spent eight years perfecting and patenting her process before making Bare baby bottles available in Babies “R” Us stores across the country.
In this time, Priska worked on hundreds of prototypes to give new dimension to the baby bottle. Hers comes in three BPA-free, dishwasher safe pieces: a bottle cylinder clamps down snugly over a silicone seal (Air-plug) capped by a rethought, redesigned extending nipple that puts others to shame. The baby draws the Air-plug up as he or she draws in the milk, similar to a syringe.
The hitch? Manufacturers need payment up front, and in order to create inventory, the search for funding became urgent. Community Capital New York backed this determined entrepreneur with equal spirit, providing a loan of $80,000 from the Million for Main Street fund to make delivery possible. Bittylab stands to gross $4 million in sales in year one.
Here’s Priska’s story and that of the Bare bottle, which gives infants an entirely new way to “suck it up” and has made gripe water, acid reflux drugs and bottle bags for formula and frozen milk unnecessary appendages.
How did you get your business off the ground?
I was a huge proponent of breastfeeding, and eight years ago when my son Carlton was born I was crushed when the doctor told me after one week that he was malnourished, dehydrated and not growing and suggested supplementing with bottles. From day one he was filled up with gas and would cry for three or four hours at a time. As a mother it was so painful to see this, so I tried aniseed, and other homeopathic remedies. I went online to do research and learned that most babies get gas from air ingestion. Baby bottles have air vents. Why? Breasts don’t have air vents. Every model, every bottle I tried let in air and my baby could not be calmed. Then my baby started rejecting my breast. He wasn’t interested in breastfeeding. That’s when I learned about nipple confusion. A bottle provides fast easy milk and a lot of infants develop a preference for it. Consistently four out of five mothers experience both problems. I went to the pharmacy and brought home kitchen utensils, syringes, and other things to experiment with. After all, syringes are safe, we inject them, trusting that no air will go into our veins. Instead of a needle, I designed a way to sub in a nipple. One and a half years later I had a “Frankenstein” prototype that worked—but made with plastic parts, rubber bands and Krazy Glue. I showed up at the biggest retailer in the baby category and met with the senior buyer who, after seeing how Bare worked, raved about the bottle’s uniqueness and innovation. She encouraged us (my husband and I) to get it into production. ASAP. It took three and a half years to develop a working prototype. Molders in the US turned us down. In 2010, when Carlton was three and my daughter Adriana was two, Bittylab became my fulltime job. I filed patents and did the ABC trade show. The prototype attracted a lot of attention.
How did you get Bare bottles to latch on?
I developed a much wider and very short nipple, so that the baby creates a deep wide latch, like a baby does on an actual breast’s areola. When the baby creates suction, the nipple expands. Together with the Flow-control technology, this lets the baby get the right amount of milk, and completely avoids nipple confusion. In late 2013 we developed 10,000 bottles as a proof of concept. Hosted as a pre-sale directly from our website, we raised $50,000 in 48 hours to pay the remaining manufacturer’s bill and got the product shipped to us. After this initial market test, we generated $150,000 in gross revenue, which we used to set up distribution and a warehouse (in California), redesign the air plug (changing from hard plastic to non-chipping silicone) and to develop a second nipple—easier to latch on—for bottle-fed babies. Our nipples don’t have stages, they have Flow-Control technology. There are four different orifices, so that a baby with weak suction only has one opening dispensing milk, while a baby with stronger suction draws more milk from all the orifices. When the baby grows and is stronger, stronger suction dispenses more milk. Within the same day a baby may need more or less flow. This avoids over feeding, and in turn, obesity, in infants and allows the baby to control the flow. Bare Air-free baby bottle is the only one on the market that lets you feed a baby upright. You don’t have to tip the bottle upside down because it works with suction rather than gravity, it really helps to eliminate gas and reflux. Our initial tests show 95% improvement in gas and reflux symptoms. Between 2011 and 2016, we had 15 meetings with Babies “R” Us who understood the bottle and loved it.
How did Community Capital help?
To bring in a 40-foot container from the other side of the world requires a three-month lead-time and payment up front. Money needs to be available several weeks before we get paid. The small business loan from Community Capital allowed us to place the order so Bare bottles made it to 185 Babies “R” Us stores in February 2016, meeting the deadline. I only had a couple of weeks left to come up with available funds or I was going to miss the shipment deadline, which meant Community Capital had to move really fast. They were easy to work with and wired the money so we were able to pay on time and get our merchandise to the warehouse with days to spare.
What advice do you have?
Be practical. We wanted to keep the warehouse in NY, and tried DIY distribution. When the first 20-foot container showed up in our Elmsford office we realized we didn’t have the necessary tools and equipment for a fast unload and I ended up climbing into the truck tossing boxes to my husband which he put away one at a time inside “The Lab,” as I call our office. It was overwhelming and literally backbreaking. That’s when we found a California warehouse equipped to palletize and shrink-wrap and ship the boxes wholesale.
Marketing campaigns to help mothers understand that air vents are bad for baby, disposable bags are an irresponsible choice for the environment and nipple stages a money sucker relic from the past. Why should people who have never experienced breast feeding be charged with the design of nipples and bottles? There’s a reason Bare bottles work.