Meet the Australian woman reinventing the baby bottle
Having won the recent MYOB Pitch Off at Silicon Block, this young mother has been working hard on revolutionising the way parents bottle feed their babies.
Anyone who’s had a baby will be familiar with all the fuss and mess that comes with the territory.
From feeding to cleaning and even just trying to keep the kids entertained, parents are regularly left wondering why things aren’t just a little simpler and easier.
And that’s exactly what Shannon Gilleland was thinking a couple of years ago while trying to prep bottles of baby formula for her young daughter.
“It was such a ridiculous process that I thought there had to be a better way,” said Gilleland. “After surveying and interviewing around 100 parents, we found most bottle-feeding parents felt the process of cleaning baby bottles took too much time and required them to carry around too much stuff.”
“That’s when I started working on a baby bottle that self-cleaned and could be carried completely empty.”
And that’s how the Pronto Bottle and Gilleland’s startup, Form-I-Baby was born.
From EA to entrepreneur at Silicon Block
We first saw Gilleland present her startup to the attendees of Silicon Block as part of an MYOB-sponsored Pitch Off competition.
Out of half a dozen other candidates, Form-I-Baby stood out as a clear victor due to the strength of Gilleland’s concept and her presentation skills – both of which she believes are owing to her unique career path.
“My professional background is quite varied – from animation, to project management and now in entrepreneurship,” she said.
With a bachelor’s degree in animation, Gilleland began her career by co-founding a mobile game studio, which she ran for two-and-a-half years before going to work for Electronic Arts as a project manager.
“While I was still at EA I co-founded a small boutique e-commerce business with my husband, which I continued to run when I left EA, and which enticed me to study a graduate certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.”
This e-commerce business has continued to act as a source of income for the past five years even after Gilleland left EA – a handy support structure to have when moving into part-time employment, raising children and considering how to start another business.
“I’ve picked up a variety of skills and gained a lot of experience, in the last eight years,” said Gilleland. “All of which have been quite relevant and necessary to help me get this project off the ground.
“My husband also helps out on the Pronto Bottle too, bringing with him almost 25 years of manufacturing, plastics, tooling and 3D design experience.”
Reinventing Baby’s bottle
Two years ago, when Gilleland first struck upon the concept for the Pronto Bottle, she realised that bringing her idea into reality would be a challenge.
But, by doing so, she also knew she’d be solving a real problem for most parents.
According to her research, parents spend around 30 minutes on preparing baby bottles for the day, before spending their day carrying around 2.5 kilograms of baby-related kit.
Gilleland wanted to design a product that would allow parents to complete their prep in just a few minutes, while each Pronto Bottle weighs just 500 grams.
But in the two years since the initial brainwave struck, Gilleland is yet to have a finished product ready for launch. And that, as she explains, is all for a very good reason.
“We’ve also bootstrapped all of the costs associated with its development so far, which has meant that, among all of that juggling, it was not only necessary for my husband to keep working to support us during all of this, but for me to work part-time where possible to help pay for the expenses,” said Gilleland.
Protecting the intellectual property of the bottle design has also been an absolute priority at Form-I-Baby, and this has likely also made for a slower journey to market.
“When it comes to manufacturing a physical product such as ours, we need to ensure that we protect it as much as possible.
“We intend on manufacturing the product right here in Melbourne, with just the tooling to do the manufacturing being made overseas, which we believe will provide us with some protection against copy cats.
But Gilleland’s IP protection strategy doesn’t end there.
“We aren’t naive either, so we’ve just engaged with a law firm, Luna, that specialises in startup businesses and that we hope to work with to guide us through the trademark and IP protection process.”
Negotiating a funding strategy switch-up
Despite all this hard work, Form-I-Baby is still very much in the early development stages, and Gilleland is quick to admit they’ll need to gain access to more funding than they can provide through bootstrapping alone.
“We’ve just hired an industrial designer, branding specialist and crowdfunding campaign specialist to work together on the next phase of the product with us.
“This will not only help us create the concepts and general product visualisations for the product, and the brand look and feel, but to also set us up for a crowdfunding campaign.”
It is this crowdfunding activity that Gilleland hopes will get them to a ‘beta product’ phase.
“This requires a couple of prototype and testing stages before having our final beta product ready for manufacturing,” she said.
Despite having already been on such a long journey with her innovative product concept, Gilleland is optimistic about the concept’s future, as well as the future of the startup scene in Australia in general.
“There just seems to be so many opportunities and support networks on offer for startups,” said Gilleland.
“From accelerator and incubator programs run by places like Startmate, Swinburne Innovation Precinct, RMIT’s Launch Hub, Spark by Deakin, MAP (just to name a few – there are so many more), to short events like Silicon Block, to three-day-long festivals like Pause Fest, to entrepreneurial support organisations like Startup Victoria and Launch Victoria.”
More than anything, Gilleland said, winning the Silicon Block Pitch Off competition has been just the positive affirmation Form-I-Baby needed.
“After struggling and juggling (parental duties, work and this project) over the last year and a bit, it was a real big pat on the back for all the hard work we’ve put in so far,” she said.
“It’s also taken a bit of the financial strain off, with having an entire year of office space paid for by MYOB (where I look forward to continuing to work in the collaborative One Roof for Women coworking space), let alone the business services provided by IE Digital and Silicon Block.
“I, we, can’t thank everyone involved enough for putting it all together and giving us this opportunity to shine.”