While conferences and after-hours networking play such a big role in start-up life, toddler mom Jennifer didn’t want to make the trade-off. So she set out to weave motherhood and entrepreneurship together, by asking a long overdue question.
Why not offer childcare at events?
“I sat in the very back and waited until all the biology-related questions had come up,” she says, describing how she got up the courage to pose the question, with her kid in tow, in front of an audience of conference attendees.
“The person I asked it directly to was like ‘uh, I’m not really sure,’ but the person next to her was like ‘yes please!'”
“It was really helpful to have a person in leadership drop in and say this is important to someone else too.”
As an adjunct professor of technology, juggling her son between daycare, grandparents and babysitters, Jennifer’s start-up “Connect Wolf” is driven by her desire to “know where he is and if his heart is beating.”
“Not only are moms interested in this for personal use, they’d like to see it in various businesses where they take their children,” she says, while at the same time “they’d really like it not to feel like they’re lo-jacking their baby.”
Together with her co-founder, she’s found “really great workshops and seminars by experienced entrepreneurs in the same area that can really help you take your idea and refine it.”
For Jennifer, being in a highly specialized wearables space, “it’s really important to do all those things to be competitive when you’re looking for money for development.”
It Takes a Village
Jennifer’s husband travels during the week, so she’s responsible for piecing together childcare for her son, in between her commitments at the University and with her start-up.
“Even in my more flexible situation, it means picking him up by 5:30 and then getting him to a sitter’s, and then running out the door to get somewhere by 6:00.”
The same rush happens before and after events, despite the fact that “those minutes are important for making connections and understanding what’s going on,” according to Jennifer, who knows she’s not alone in the struggle.
“As I’m running out the door at the end of something, and everyone else is getting their cheap wine and snacks, I see three other people running down the steps.”
Jennifer and her 3-year-old understandably “don’t want to be separated when we’ve been separated all day,” so having time in the car together traveling to and from the event is priceless.
Then there’s the toll it takes on her wallet.
“I’m looking at hundreds of extra dollars a month and thousands of dollars a year beyond his standard $14,000 a year in childcare.”
In her pursuit to remove these barriers, Jennifer has started connecting local event organizers with Flexable, a Pittsburgh-based provider of certified “pop-up childcare” founded by mompreneurs Jessica Strong and Priya Amin (author of Make the Leap: A Guide to Reaching Your Goals).
“People are receptive to it when it’s brought to their attention,” she says. “I think it’s just a matter of getting it to be a thought during budgeting and planning.”
Helping Women Succeed
“A lot of this comes down to awareness that this is a hurdle for women entering entrepreneurship,” says Jennifer.
“I’ve actually had really good luck talking to 24-year-old guys that just got out of school. People who are entering the workforce right now have been taught about inclusiveness and how important it is to find the problems.”
She believes solving the childcare conundrum for start-ups can also benefit corporate culture, and “that leap where we see so many people falling off between middle management and executive leadership, where there’s such under-representation of women.”
In academia, the topic has been explored in a recent paper by the Working Group of Mothers in Science and in Mary Ann Mason’s book Do Babies Matter?: Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower.
“I’m really excited to see more of this done and surprised that I’m the person who’s like ‘excuse me’ tapping on their shoulders.”