When Kiera Devine flew to New York with her baby girl, the new mom left her bulky stroller at home because she expected to be able to rent baby equipment in New York. When she couldn’t, her new business — Parental Marketplace — was born.
Parental Marketplace is an online platform that allows parents to rent baby equipment.
“My husband and I were travelling with our daughter Kingsley last year,” said Devine, who is based in Saint John, New Brunswick.
“I didn’t want to take my stroller and car seat. I didn’t want to lug them around New York or risk the airline damaging them.
“I thought, surely I can rent. There should be a stroller rental on every street, but I found I needed to give 72 hours’ notice and have a fax machine.”
She decided there must be an easier way.
“By the time I was travelling home with a sleeping baby on my knee I was trying to figure out the business model,” said the entrepreneur, who is known in Saint John as the former owner of women’s boutique Je Suis Prest and men’s clothing store Ready Man.
Devine believes the growth of the sharing economy, popularized by Airbnb and now including many product-sharing options, means the time is right for her venture.
She is starting off with parents renting to parents. She is initially targeting Toronto where, she said, apartments can be so small that parents have to store bulky baby items such as car seats in bathtubs. Then she would like to get thousands of baby rental companies on her site.
“Eventually, I’d like to be the Expedia of this market,” she said. “I’d like to work with companies like Airbnb and airports and hotels to provide service to their clients.”
Devine launched her venture in December and went through programming offered by regional accelerator Propel ICT. She’s now happy to be one of five Atlantic Canadian female-led companies to be participating in the prestigious Fierce Founders Bootcamp and Pitch Competition, run by Communitech in Kitchener, Ont.
Devine is hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow New Brunswick entrepreneur Bethany Deshpande, CEO of SomaDetect, who recently won $50,000 at Fierce Founders.
“I’m at the point where I’m looking for funding,” Devine said. “I’m honing my pitch, figuring out what my company needs.”
What her company needs is $150,000 in pre-seed funding. So far, Devine has received funding from private sources and government agencies, allowing her to launch the initial iteration of her website.
The new funding will allow her to advertise in Toronto.
“I want to infiltrate the market fast through social media and feet on the ground,” said the entrepreneur, who also runs active-wear company Lole in partnership with her mother.
Devine said she is the first in Canada to offer baby equipment sharing on a large scale (there are many local rental businesses) although she has a competitor called goBaby in the U.S.
“I had a bit of a sinking heart when I heard about goBaby,” she said. “They got a six-month head start on me. But the fact that other parents are thinking the same way means the market and business can grow.”
She wants her site to make life easier for parents by allowing them to test a product before buying.
“In Saint John, for example, we have limited options about where to purchase products. We can buy online, sight unseen. We can’t try before buying.”
Her site will maintain quality control by inviting both sides in a rental agreement to leave reviews, and by requiring deposits. Only approved brands not subject to recalls will be listed.
Although she is setting her sights on the Toronto market, Devine plans to stay in New Brunswick.
“I’ve had so much support here, including from economic development agencies and Propel ICT, with this and my other businesses,” she said.