The string of numbers assigned to Buffalo attorney Rachel E. Jackson’s patent application masks the ah-ha moment of inspiration behind it in a veil of bureaucratic tedium. But U.S. Patent Application 14/874,372 tells a fascinating story nonetheless.
Jackson’s single-page application to patent a “Thermal Device for Treating Breastfeeding Conditions,” filed on October 2, 2015, is more than the tale of one Western New Yorker’s inventive idea. It’s a window on the thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem that helped her bring it to market and on that ecosystem’s vital wellspring of women business owners.
Entrepreneurship among women is alive and well in Western New York, where startups have access to a range of helpful agencies and organizations which offer resources for entrepreneurs. Examples include the Buffalo Small Business Development Center, the U.S. Small Business Administration district office, the Women’s Business Center at Canisius College, and the University at Buffalo to name a few.
In 2016, Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls ranked 35th among the 100-largest U.S. metropolitan statistical areas for female entrepreneurship and fifth for business climate for women, according to the personal-finance website wallethub.com’s “Best and Worst Places for Women-Owned Businesses.”
What’s happening in Buffalo reflects a broader trend that has seen women nationwide becoming more entrepreneurial. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, women owned 36 percent of all businesses, an increase of 30 percent over 2007. That number is even higher today. An American Express OPEN-commissioned report shows that more than 9.4 million women-owned businesses currently operate in the U.S. Combined, these firms account for nearly a third of all privately held companies, pull in annual revenues to the tune of $1.5 trillion and provide jobs to roughly eight million workers. And they’re among the fastest-growing enterprises in the nation, increasing at a rate 1.5 times the U.S. average.
And women approach starting a new business differently than men, according to the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. A higher percentage of those who become entrepreneurs do so because they see an opportunity to fill a gap in the market, not because they need the work, according to Kauffman; in 2015, more than 84 percent of women in entrepreneurship were such "opportunity entrepreneurs."
Finding her own solution
Jackson is one example. She started her business Rachel’s Remedies around her revolutionary new breastfeeding product.
Jackson recalls vividly how she came up with the idea for Rachel’s Remedies. “I had my own law firm and two kids, and when I started nursing, I experienced these painful breastfeeding conditions for which there was no remedy on the market,” she recalls. Among the conditions that commonly plague breastfeeding mothers are clogged milk ducts and sore or cracked nipples that can lead to infection or even mastitis, a painful inflammation of the breast.
Frustrated to find nothing on the market designed to provide relief, Jackson told friends and family members she couldn’t believe such common, uncomfortable, and potentially serious conditions had gone unaddressed. “I had talked about it for years,” she says. “The frustration.”
Jackson, who with her brother is a partner in Jackson & Jackson, a Buffalo firm specializing in corporate law, sometimes couldn’t travel for work for lack of a sanitary place to pump her breast milk. Working with state Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo, she pushed for legislation requiring airports to provide sanitary places for breastfeeding mothers to pump their milk, and in October of 2015 Buffalo-Niagara International announced it would establish a room for lactating moms.
That same month, Jackson filed with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office her plans for a “Thermal Device for Treating Breastfeeding Conditions”—a moist-heat pad containing thermal material such as flaxseed that can be warmed and worn inside a woman’s bra to help improve vascular flow, keep milk ducts unclogged and soothe sore or cracked nipples, guarding against infection. By then, Jackson herself was finished breastfeeding—her own two sons were 3 years old and 12 months old—but she didn’t want other mothers to go through what she’d had to endure.
“I had talked about it for years,” she recalls, “saying ‘I can’t believe there aren’t products on the market to help.” Jackson used her legal training and experience to help secure FDA clearance for the product, a process she laughingly says was “not as fun as a flu shot, but a lot of work.” Her patent is still pending, even as her sons have grown to be 4 and 6 years old and entered the inevitable phase where their favorite things are Ghostbusters, Star Wars and “bashing things,” she says.
At this stage, the trials and tribulations of motherhood are much different. “The window guy is on speed dial,” Jackson says. But patent or no, she has established a secure niche for herself and her product. In addition to being available at various pharmacies and independent stores, the Breastfeeding Relief Packs are sold in 93 Babies R Us stores and online and in 50 Buy Buy Baby stores and online.
And this month, Jackson teamed up with one of the foremost names in baby products when Rachel's Remedies LLC signed a licensing agreement with the Dr. Brown's, a global maker of bottles and other feeding products. Under the agreement, the pads—now co-branded Dr. Brown's Rachel's Remedy Breastfeeding Relief Packs—will still be made in Orchard Park. But Dr. Brown's, which sells products in 60 countries, will take care of all distribution, marketing, and promotion.
Jackson enlisted the aid of Launch NY, a non-profit venture development organization that supports high-growth potential startups in the 27 westernmost counties of New York State, to bring to market her FDA-approved heating and cooling pad for breastfeeding mothers. Rachel’s Remedies received the first investment from the Launch NY seed fund in March 2016.
“Rachel has met many key milestones in the past year that have made it possible to bring in other investors and strategic partners, which is one of the goals of the Launch NY Seed Fund,” said Marnie LaVigne, president, and CEO of Launch NY.
Help behind the scenes
Karen Richardson-Moore launched a Buffalo firm called Innovative Back Office Solutions to provide affordable administrative services for startups and other small businesses.
Richardson-Moore, who has a bachelor’s degree in arts in organizational communications and a minor in business management from Canisius College, hasn’t followed in the rapid, high-growth footsteps of Jackson’s business. But her fledgling firm has been successful in its own right and has a similarly compelling story behind it.
In 2015, after more than three decades of working in various capacities for major corporations, she went out on her own in an entrepreneurial quest to start a business dedicated to relieving other startups of the financial burden of back-office overhead. With help from PathStone, a not-for-profit regional community development and human service organization with a footprint in seven states and Puerto Rico, she launched Innovative Back Office Solutions. The firm comprises a loosely knit network of nine independent contractors that offers small business services for online boutiques, restaurants, taxi outfits and cleaning companies. The range of services includes marketing, human resources, web design and more.
Richardson-Moore’s says the company is her calling. During a long career working a variety of jobs for corporations such as Xerox, Bank of America, Cellular One and M&T Bank, she had specialized in small-business consulting and marketing and communications. Innovative Back Office Solutions draws perfectly on all that. She loves it; it’s the highlight of her working life, she says.
It almost didn’t happen, though.
“This isn’t a clean-cut story of success,” says Jonathon Ling, business development officer at PathStone Enterprise Center, which granted Richardson-Moore a loan to help her expand her business.
In 2008, seven years before starting Innovative Back Office Solutions, Richardson-Moore became legally blind from diabetes-related retinopathy and was home-bound for almost a year in the throes of what she now dismissively calls a “pity party.” She finally emerged and overcame her disability with the help of software technology from the University at Buffalo that either enlarges text or converts it to audio. In May 2015, she retired from the corporate world. A month later she decided to start her own business.
Richardson-Moore’s starting an entrepreneurial enterprise devoted to helping other startups serves as a lens on how an entrepreneurial ecosystem works.
“It’s really part of the startup story,” Ling says. “She’s positioned herself to be part of the small-business ecosystem in Buffalo. And that’s the cool part of it. (She’s) not out there saying ‘I’m going to be a consultant for big business.’ No, she’s saying ‘I want to help small businesses and minorities.”
In May 2016, nine months after starting Innovative Back Office Solutions, Richardson-Moore received a $10,000 award from Chicago’s Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired that enabled her to boost marketing for her startup. But her greatest asset is her drive, say those who know her.
Richardson-Moore is “very energetic, very innovative,” Ling says. Her passion for what she does is obvious on her LinkedIn page, where she describes how much she likes working with people who have “a dream that won’t let them sleep.”
Richardson-Moore doesn’t believe in sleep for herself, either. She goes to bed each night around 10. Rises each morning around 3. Goes back to bed fours later, around 7. Then, finally, at 10 a.m., Karen Richardson-Moore rises once again, this time for the duration.
“I thoroughly enjoy this business,” she says.