When a company is open to working with independent inventors to find, develop, and commercialize its new products, what does that really look like in practice? To find out, I interviewed David Contract, marketing team lead at the Betesh Group. The Betesh Group is a privately-held consumer products company that owns several popular baby products brands in the United States. For example, it's the leading diaper bag manufacturer, the leading baby appliance manufacturer, and the number two baby bedding company. Its new brand for sleep and soothing products is named Tranquilo.
On the company's About Us page of its website, its openness to working with inventors is clearly stated: "We also welcome innovative product solutions and inventions from outside parties, particularly those with unique selling propositions and patentability."
Contract has been marketing consumer products for more than 20 years. He got his start at Kraft Foods. For the last seven years, he's been in the baby products industry.
In a recent phone interview, he described the three ways the Betesh Group works with inventors.
Sometimes, it acquires products that inventors have built. That's Option A, and how its newest brand, Tranquilo, came to be. Late last year, the Betesh Group acquired the Tranquilo brand from inventor and entrepreneur Melissa Gersin, who launched the Tranquilo Soothing Mat -- which soothes babies to sleep by mimicking the sound and motion they experience in the womb -- on Shark Tank in 2017.
"The [inventor] develops the product, they bring it to market, and when they get to a point where they can't grow it, they come to a company like us because we have the infrastructure in place to take a small brand and make it big, right?" Contract explained. "We sell to the majors, Walmart, Target, and Amazon. And we have marketing, customer service, and R&D."
Option B involves licensing product ideas from inventors like Lauren Piccirillo, the creator of Baby Soothe. Baby Soothe is a portable baby massager that imitates a parent's comforting touch. After years of hard work, Piccirillo licensed Baby Soothe to the Betesh Group in the spring of 2018. (Full disclosure: I met Piccirillo on Facebook a few years ago and have advised her about licensing from time to time since.)
Piccirillo invented Baby Soothe in 2010 after the birth of her first son, who often cried uncontrollably. The only thing that seemed to naturally soothe him to sleep when he was inconsolable was massaging her fingertips on his back and belly in little circles.
"He loved it," she said. "And I thought, 'Wow, this would be fantastic if I had this throughout the day when the baby would cry.' That was the aha moment."
It took about two years after she conceived of the initial idea to develop a working prototype with the help of an engineer and file for patent protection. Originally, she sought to manufacture Baby Soothe on her own. But after realizing all of the challenges involved with the logistics of manufacturing overseas, including the cost, she decided to go the licensing route. She was rejected by about 10 to 15 companies before connecting with the head of sales at the Betesh Group over LinkedIn in early 2018.
"The other companies either had products that they wanted to roll out themselves, or their mission did not align with my mission," Piccirillo said. "Most of the time, it just wasn't the right fit."
And as for Contract? He loved her product the moment it came on his radar last spring.
"Why did I love it? Because I know that sleep and soothing are major challenges for new parents through our research and through my history in the baby products industry. Massage and natural approaches to health and wellness are absolutely on trend today, particularly with moms. I loved that she was doing something different and that it was very much on trend," he explained. "I felt like we could take her idea and then bring it to market effectively, creating a whole new product category."
After the company conducted research to validate her idea, they began negotiating an agreement to acquire the worldwide rights. Starting with what she had created, they modified, refined, simplified her prototype; moved into the manufacturing and sales phase; and launched on the first of September of this year.
Today you can find Baby Soothe on Amazon and the company's website. Piccirillo has made great use of social media to promote her product throughout her journey, and it's paid off. Last month, she returned to the Dr. Oz show for a second time to promote Baby Soothe. That's how you help your licensee sell more product!
And finally, the Betesh Group periodically hears from a select group of professional inventors. That's how its Baby Brezza brand came to be. An inventor group approached the Betesh Group about seven years ago with the concept of a baby food maker that automatically steams and blends baby food. The inventors hadn't developed the whole product; they had patented a process. The Betesh Group took their concept, developed a product behind it, and launched it.
When I asked Contract what the company is looking for in terms of a submission, he was explicit.
"I think the most important thing is that there's a patent pending status, that there's protection associated with it. That's for two reasons: To protect the inventor and to protect us.... One of the first questions we ask is, 'Hey, do you have any type of patent status on it? Even patent pending.' We want to make sure that the area that they're focusing on is unique and is not going to step on what someone else has done. Two, that's going to help make that product more successful. Rather than trying to enter a crowded field, we want to create a new space for ourselves. So, that's really the first question we ask.
In terms of do they need to have a prototype or things like that, obviously, the more you have, the better, because it means that you've actually invested more in it, you've developed it more fully, you've brought it to life in some way, shape, or form so we as a company can better understand it.
But it's not a necessity. What's most important is that it's a really good idea that meets an important need that no one else has addressed before, because as a marketer and as a business person who's trying to drive incremental growth, I want to do it with a product that's unique, that's differentiated, and that's going to deliver a meaningful benefit to consumers, and that they can't get anywhere else.
Anyone who comes to us with an idea that we have interest in, we're going to do research behind that. We're going to talk to hundreds of consumers, we're going to do concept testing, we're going to do an attitude and usage study. Oftentimes a great idea falls apart when you actually tell people they have to buy it and it's not free."
To me, it's extremely exciting that a company of this size is working with inventors to not only bring new products to market, but also establish entirely new product categories. That's remarkable.
Inventors, don't give up too soon. Piccirillo labored for eight years before she found the right company because she believed so strongly in the benefits of her invention. Talk about determination! Licensing success takes time and patience. There are no overnight success stories.
Correction: The last name of Tranquilo Soothing Mat inventor Melissa Gersin was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.