Staff Sgt. Beth Fynbo
United States Army
Baby Busy Mat
Recruited by the U.S. Army as a freshman in college, Beth Fynbo served for 10 years as a linguist in military intelligence in Bosnia and a broadcast journalist in Italy and Iraq. After her deployment, she decided to help her fellow soldiers and countrymen (and women) deal with translating the needs of a different type of broadcasters- babies!
In an effort to keep their gear collected and their parts likewise, Fynbo developed the Busy Baby Mat to keep babies and toddlers entertained and germ-free while shopping, eating at restaurants or even playing at home. Instead of having to chase down and then re-wash and sanitize baby’s toys, Busy Baby Mat users can rest and rest assured that their baby’s toys will be kept clean and in one place. This food-grade silicone mat sticks securely to almost any surface and offers plenty of space for baby to explore and entertain themselves while parents take a well-needed breath.
When asked how she has been able to make it as a successful Vetrepreneur©, Fynbo credits her military training for giving her the gifts tenacity, determination and the ability to adapt and overcome. “You train and prepare for missions,” she says, “but when ‘go-time’ arrives, sometimes you encounter unplanned events or circumstances. Adapting and overcoming is vital to any mission, and Veteran business owners have that mindset.”
What does your company do?
The Busy Baby Mat makes life a little easier for parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers. The 100% food-grade silicone placemat and tether system allows you them to attach baby’s toys so they stay within arms reach and off the ground and other germ-ridden surfaces. It also saves backs from bending over 1,435,683 times during a meal. Not only can it be used on high chairs and restaurant tables, but also on the go around handles (like shopping carts and infant carriers) because the mat is flexible to wrap and its suction cups adhere to one another. The four super-strong suction cups also stick to any smooth flat surface. Parents are using it on sliding glass doors to motivate babies to practice standing, on the side of the fridge or dishwasher to keep babies in place while working in the kitchen, and even on the side of the bathtub to keep little ones from squirming to much while scrubbing them down!
What promoted you to launch it?
My initial intention wasn’t actually to start a business. I cut and glued together two prototype versions – one for me and one for my best friend who had her baby eight days after me. After using it for a little bit, she told me I simply had to make it for real…. I took an entrepreneurship course through Bunker Labs – a Veteran run non-profit that helps Veterans who want to start their own businesses. After that course, I took what I learned, leaned on the resources I gained, and turned my idea into a reality.
How has your military life educated and influenced you in your business life?
The military teaches problem solving and tenacity. You don’t get to just quit or give up. If there is some sort of problem, you identify what it is, come up with possible solutions, evaluate which one is the most likely to succeed and implement it. Then you review to see if it indeed was the best option. If it wasn’t, you continue to adapt and overcome. There are no other options. You find a way! I think that starting a business, especially in an area where you have no previous experience, is a constant cycle of figuring out problems and processes and finding ways to improve them or find what works. I hear that a lot of people quit before they even give their business a real chance. That never entered my mind. It was always a matter of finding the next best possible solution.
What do you hope to do with your business?
I’d like to expand the product line and produce the other products that I have developed. If the right opportunity came along, and for the right number, I’d love to license or sell the products to a bigger company and let them run with it so I can spend more time with my family. Due to the constant moving in the military, and then the long adjustment period back to a ‘normal’ civilian life after the military, I didn’t start my family until I turned 40! I just had my second son in January and will turn 43 this summer. I’d love to be able to spend more time with my boys and then show them how to start a business with one of my next ideas. (I have a few in the hopper now that I know how the process works!)
What advice would you give other Veterans looking to own a business?
First, take advantage of the resources out there, especially Bunker Labs. There are so many people who are willing and want to help. Do this before you spend a dime on your idea. Bunker Labs has expanded to several major cities across the country and is also available online. Second, vet your idea to strangers. Your friends and family will almost always be supportive and kind. A stranger on the street is more likely to be honest. In my situation, I went to the baby section in Target, found customers with babies or kids, shared my idea with them and got their feedback. When 100% of them told me my idea was genius, I knew I was on to something! If they had responded differently, then I would have known that my idea needed more work. Third, be confident. The work we did in the military is most likely completely unrelated to a business idea. Even so, we as Veterans are more qualified to start a business than most civilians. We’ve already gone through the process of learning a completely new skill at least once and probably more than that. That means we have the capacity to learn anything! We learned and practiced many of the skills and attributes needed to start a business and we didn’t even know it. Entrepreneurship is a roller-coaster ride of emotions, of failures and successes, of trials and hardships. We know we can endure that in much worse conditions! Have confidence and move forward!
What is the most important thing you want people to know about Veterans?
As with any group or classification of people, there are bad apples, but for the most part you can trust that a Veteran is going to get a job done. If there is a hiccup, the Veteran will be first look for a way to solve the problem before they ever consider quitting. A Veteran is typically more dedicated, devoted, and driven to their interests. A Veteran will almost always be there to help make something better and support the people they work with.