Sandra Beck has a pretty good track record landing grants that have helped advance her business, Tidy Tots Diapers, a cloth alternative to disposables that offers some of the conveniences of the latter.
She’s hoping the streak holds, and she makes the cut in the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. The Top 100 applicants will be announced March 16, with the 12 winners revealed May 4.
At stake is $250,000 in prize money divvied among one grand, one silver and 10 bronze prize winners, plus several thousand dollars each in FedEx print and business services.
Beck says she would use the FedEx money to create a much-needed diaper for physically handicapped children. She envisions a CAD (computer-aided design) machine that would send a child’s specific measurements to a laser cutter that would produce custom-fitted diapers.
“My heart is with disabled children,” says Beck, who has fielded many calls from their parents over the years in search of better-fitting diapers.
After selling the software firm she co-founded and ran for two decades, Beck turned her attention to diapers, seeing disposables as bad both for the environment and for the children wearing them.
She started tinkering with a cloth alternative in 2000, and over the course of several years honed a prototype from feedback received from “hundreds of families” who tried various kinds of cloth diapers she offered and told her what they liked and didn’t like.
Beck secured her first utility patent for Tidy Tots in 2007 (she now has four), launching the business in 2010.
The Tidy Tots “system” includes a four-layer pre-folded cloth diaper made of organic blended hemp that can be augmented by tucking a cloth “booster” inside – together they can hold 12 ounces of liquid. The diaper and booster then are wrapped with a flushable, secured liner, also made of hemp, that will catch solids.
All is snapped into a colorful, water-resistant cover that then is secured around the child’s waist with snaps; elasticized gussets hug the legs to also prevent leaks.
A “starter kit” sells for $269.95, which Beck says is competitive with the top two cloth-diaper sellers, and can save a family $1,700 over two years versus disposable diapers. Beck sells through the Tidy Tots website, Amazon, other retailers’ sites, and Nordstrom.
Tidy Tots is based in Scotia at Schenectady ARC’s Pine Ridge Industries, which offers jobs and training to individuals with disabilities. Beck employs six ARC clients. (Six other jobs are filled by refugees with sewing skills, Beck said.)
Tidy Tots has $75,000 in adaptive equipment in use at Pine Ridge, secured through grants with assistance from FuzeHub, an Albany-based mentor to manufacturers.
Beck would like to add to that arsenal through the FedEx contest. She knows the competition is tough – 13,000 companies entered last year, according to FedEx. Despite that, “I’m hopeful,” Beck said.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]