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North Philadelphia native Bessie Lee Cappell’s youngest child was born about five years ago.
Her son Jonathan was the inspiration for a baby product manufacturing business and “he still doesn’t even know it yet,” she laughed.
In 2019, Lee Cappell was a full-time social worker and mother of three children under the age of 10 years old. Unlike her two other children, this new baby preferred being bottle fed and using pacifiers after his stint in the neonatal intensive care unit.
During the morning rush, she would get her children ready for school and daycare but now had the extra task of hand washing baby bottles that were soaked overnight.
Without fail, she’d end up walking out the door with some water stains on her work clothes.
“But then also when I’m at work, I’m pumping,” Lee Cappell said. “So I’m washing the bottles after I pump.”
Then she’d be sprinkled with more soapy water before returning to her desk.
Not all baby bottles are safe to be thrown into a dishwasher due to extremely hot water that can discolor, leave residue, formula or even bits of breastmilk inside the bottle, she said.
Her first prototype was a yoga mat cut as a cover for a bottle washing wand. It wasn’t the most effective tool, but it was “a nice little blueprint for the dimensions,” she said.
Despite the initially clunky tool, Lee Cappell was bullish about her potential and incorporated her small business, the Baby Bottle Brush Bib Company, while still working at her day job.
Five years later, she’s the CEO of this baby product business full-time and has expanded to more products over the years such as pacifier holders, some toys, apparel and a silicone-molded bottle brush cover.
She’s worked to get on retail shelves like local Shoprite stores, inked deals to incorporate her products in subscription boxes for parents and even runs an online store.
Most recently, Lee Cappell won a $5,000 microgrant which includes business support from the Urban League of Philadelphia and Elevate Together.
There were 20 Black and Hispanic-owned small businesses across the city who were awarded $100,000 at a Northeast Philly Office Max in September 2023.
It’s the third year in a row that Elevate Together, which is funded by the Office Depot Foundation, has donated the money to the Urban League and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Each business owner was matched with a U.S. Small Business Administration mentor to improve their company strategy.
It’s a nice bump for a small business that’s been bootstrapped with savings and a small GoFund me campaign, Cappell said.
She had met a manufacturer connection at a baby product expo willing to accept her somewhat small order of about five thousand pieces with the prototype she had on hand.
Unlike some small businesses that first push online sales, the milestone of getting into brick-and-mortar was important.
“So people can actually feel and see the product, especially when you have babies you like to see it,” she said.
Lee Cappell is a graduate of the Brown’s Super Stores business incubator – which owns The Fresh Grocer and Shoprites in the region. She did pop-ups at roughly 12 different stores before snagging shelf space, she said.
Lee Cappell plans to use the grant money to begin patenting her designs. She also took out a small business loan for her expansion into the subscription box market and new manufacturing molds for its overseas production.
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