Featured Founder: Lauren Wright of The Natural Nipple
Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Lauren Wright, Founder & CEO of The Natural Nipple, seamless, stress-free breast and bottle feeding with the only bottle that mimics a real mom’s shape, feel, and flow.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?
Growing up with limited access to health care, I became passionate and driven to optimize wellness in the global underserved community by integrating preventative primary health care and research. To do this, I was simultaneously pursuing my nurse practitioner degree in order to stay in touch with the patient needs and working on my PhD in hopes of generating research and protocols that shaped healthcare. Getting into the real clinical world was a crude shock. I was in my clinical rounds and already frustrated about the limited impact I was making in primary care when typically you are reimbursed to spend 15 minutes with a patient and couldn't possibly holistically get to the root of their problem in that time frame.
While studying the gut microbiome of preterm infants, I discovered that babies that weren't getting mother's milk were suffering fatal complications. I became fascinated by breastmilk as the most preventive, dynamic, biological substance that has enabled us to evolve as mammals by providing the very first 'life vaccine'. This fueled my desire to create a solution that promotes prolonged breastfeeding and that's how The Natural Nipple was born.
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
After receiving a grant from The National Science Foundation to conduct over 300 interviews, identifying both mom and hospital's pain points-the data was compelling enough to wake me up in the middle of the night with ideas and work on the solution over 40 hours a week while balancing school and a forensic nurse practitioner job part-time.
Despite being within the 73 billion dollar global baby industry, the baby product and medical industry apparently fails to offers baby, mom, or caregiver everything they need in one. 92% percent of parents who introduce baby to a bottle with the intention of returning to the breast are unable to continue breastfeeding for the recommended 2 years. In the U.S. the average mother is entitled to just 3 weeks maternity leave leaving only 2.5 options for feeding baby: Breast, bottle, or both. The problem: Combining Breastfeeding with bottle feeding on an artificial nipple is rarely easy and being apart from baby causes mom’s milk flow to slow- giving baby less with each feeding making the desire to return to a fast flowing artificial nipple strong for baby. By majority, women resort to commercially available bottle nipples.
100% of expecting and breastfeeding mothers reported looking for a bottle nipple that is closest to their natural nipple in shape and in flow rate. Additionally, 100% of mothers reported wanting to continue breastfeeding, but 87% gave up early because of latching difficulties caused by ‘nipple confusion’. Conceptually, this was defined as the shape and flow rate of existing commercial products not matching a mother’s natural nipple. For the hospital supply market, a crucial pain point described as variable free flow drip rate was identified which costs hospitals approximately $3000 per preterm infant per day. The Natural Nipple was designed to solve these problems, providing seamless, stress-free breast and bottle feeding with the only bottle nipple that mimics moms shape feel and flow.
This was done using 3d scanning technology to generate 4 nipple types reflective of the population so that a mom can pick her unique shape. Additionally, we conducted lactation studies so utilizing out subscription model e-commerce platform, a mom can order a kit for hands-on fit, and receive her nipple with updated flow rate every 2 months to support her breastfeeding journey.
Where do you see your company headed next?
Our patent covers creating any product from breast shape and flow rate and can be used for licensing an array of breastfeeding products, so that will be a direction we pursue so moms have better fitting nursing bras, pump flanges, and nipple shields that reduce pain in moms. Babies would also benefit from more breast-like pacifiers and sippy cups!
In terms of our product development, we are working Integrating technology into the bottle allowing the consumer to select the best fitting breastfeeding products for them. Additionally, by Using NanoTechnology sensors and a flow rate controller, we can provide for safer feedings and close monitoring of the baby by mother or caregiver.
Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?
Oh man. This is vulnerable and embarrassing but I'm going to just share it in hopes of encouraging other entrepreneurs out there. In November last year, I was juggling way too much- the dissertation proposal, the startup, a failing relationship, and looking for part-time work as the research study I was on had just concluded. Suddenly everything was falling apart because of spreading myself too thin- I had to make a decision that the one thing I wanted to succeed at was bringing this innovation to market. I ended up eliminating what wasn't bringing me closer to that goal and couch surfing for 3 months until I found a clinical job that provided the flexibility to continue pursuing this mission.
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.
My personal journey has been really unconventional and filled with so many pivots, and everyone's blueprint to the life they have always dreamed of is going to look different. Keeping that in mind frees me from the tendency to take other people's opinions to heart or compare myself to another's construct of success- which is so easy to do when humans are wired for connectivity. People think it's crazy that I barely make enough to live off of at the moment and compromise my lifestyle for a complete risk when a cushy 100k clinical salary is an option. I never thought after being 10 years in and a semester away from 'Dr. Wright' I would consider putting graduating on hold to be a dedicated founder. But when I get real with myself about what elicits the sensation of joy in my life and act for the action itself- not the outcome, I know I'm where I need to be. My advice: never, ever forget that you have something to bring into this world that absolutely no one else can. No one has your exact experiences that shape your perception and genetic expression to be able to take your ideas and transform them into matter. Fail hard and keep going, no matter what mistakes you have made- you are uniquely neuroplastic: dynamic and deserving of being here; resilient and worthy of living the life you always wanted!