Product idea #1: Izzy Melody Limited
The young entrepreneur behind the baby teething business talks product inspiration, running her first business and the importance of being made in Britain
Founder: Alissa Koopal
Date launched: February 2013
The product: Multi-functional, soothing and non-toxic baby products
Design-savvy mum Alissa Koopal was on maternity leave with her second child when she had her lightbulb product idea.
Frustrated at the lack of safe, non-toxic and developmental baby products in the market at the time, the 27 year-old was convinced she’d spotted a potentially lucrative opportunity, but with no business experience, the young entrepreneur was unsure how to turn her concept into a viable product.
After a change in circumstances that meant Koopal was unable to return to her job in art and design, she took a leap of faith and walked into The Prince’s Trust office with no appointment but a burning ambition and a passion for her idea’s potential.
Following a positive and enthused reaction from the Trust, Koopal embarked on the Trust’s Enterprise programme, as well as securing finance and a mentor to help create her launch product, the I.M. BabyBangle: a stylish but progressive teething toy made from eco-friendly materials.
Since then, her burgeoning start-up Izzy Melody, a name inspired – like the products – by the founder’s daughters, has grown dramatically.
The company has expanded from one signature product to a whole collection of baby products, and its range is now stocked in leading UK stores such as John Lewis and Mothercare, with an international presence in 10 countries.
With three new products in the pipeline and plans to further increase international distribution, Startups caught up with founder Koopal to discuss the importance of having a mentor, the story behind her innovative soothers and making it into 10 Downing Street to meet prime minister David Cameron…
Can you briefly describe your background Alissa?
Yes. I always wanted to do something where I could combine all my passions and professional background into one – design, brand development and my girls.
Where did the idea for Izzy Melody come from?
All product inspiration comes from my daughters – Chloe Melody, Isabella (Izzy) and May. I wanted to create products that were beautiful, design-led and truly helped parents and babies in a natural way.
Izzy products are natural, practical and beautiful; as a brand we are fully focused on ethics and safety so parents and carers can have peace-of-mind that what they are giving their children is non-toxic. Our products are innovative and many are new to the market – for example the I.M. BabyBangle is one of the only teethers in the world that combines multiple uses and stages (from birth to toddler) into one product and which is sterilised and dishwasher-friendly.
What market research did you conduct to learn more about the mother and baby sector?
As a mum, I had quite a good insight from friends and my own children but I also conducted multiple focus groups with parents I did not know so the opinions would not be biased. I combined this with research online and the market research available on the industry as a whole.
What have you done to protect the IP of Izzy Melody products?
IP’s can be somewhat of a challenge and can be very costly – I was lucky to have a lot of mentoring advice and I also used the patent/IP clinics that are free in libraries throughout the UK.
How did you finance Izzy Melody?
I started the business using a combination of different start-up loans, which enabled Izzy to do a consumer and trade show and to manufacture the samples and the first batch to sell. Since then we incorporated Izzy Melody Limited, and have taken on an investor to enable us to support our massive growth plan over the next two years.
Describe your business journey to date, from having the idea for your baby products to bringing them to market.
The journey to date has been very full-on but extremely satisfying! Seeing my products in stores and bumping into parents using and loving them makes it all worth it! It is hard as a start-up with an extremely small budget but I have been very humbled by the support of other businesses and mentors that have been (and still are) involved in the business.
I had no experience of running or starting a business. Also, as a start-up with no experience it is hard to find the capital you need to get your idea/business evolving – Start Up Loans and Merseyside Small Loans for Business Fund (MSIF) have been a true lifeline. We have also gotten some recognition from different awards and have even been invited to 10 Downing Street to meet the prime minister.
Who manufactures Izzy Melody? Is being ‘Made in Britain’ fundamental to the product?
We use British-based manufacturers and we work extremely closely with them. Being made in the UK is important as we can stay involved from the design stage to the finished product – and therefore ensure that the products are keeping with the company ethos of safe and non-toxic products.
How do you distribute Izzy Melody products – is it exclusively online or is it currently stocked elsewhere?
My first product is now stocked in 10 different countries as well as the UK. We have also made it into a number of big brand stores such as John Lewis and Mothercare, and have over 50 UK based stockists next to the majors.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs considering launching a baby product business?
Take advantage of professional business mentors, and make sure you research your market. Focus on the distribution channels which are specific for the industry, plus visit trade shows and network – and remember to have a great time doing it!
What are Izzy’s future plans?
We are sourcing investment to grow massively in the next few years and we have three new products launching in spring that will bring Izzy Melody further in categories such as sleeping and bonding between babies and parents.
We are also aiming to bump up international distribution alongside getting into more leading distributors here – all whilst having fun!