In an effort that both taps moms for new ideas and ensures some goodwill, diaper giant Huggies has launched a program that provides venture capital funding to entrepreneurial moms.
The site, called HuggiesMomInspired.com, launched last week. An open submission process for new business ideas kicks off this month. The outreach is part of parent company Kimberly-Clark’s efforts to further strengthen its relationship with its core consumers, many of whom are business-minded, social media-savvy moms.
K-C launched the program to address a perceived need in the market: Female-run businesses grew at a rate of nearly 23 percent — two times faster than businesses as a whole — according to a 2008 research report from the National Association of Women Business Owners. But women have a harder time securing funding for their startups — only 3 percent of all venture capital funds go to women, said K-C, citing Babson College research.
Under the program, K-C is awarding grants, up to $15,000 for a total first-year total contribution of $250,000. The former amount is an average sum compiled from talking to different women and learning their startup monetary needs, said Stephen Paljieg, senior director of growth and innovation.
“One mom said, ‘I need $15,000 to secure an attorney and file a patent on this idea. But I work and I’m losing sleep at night because the only place I can get it is in the money I’ve been saving up for my kids’ college fund. How do I cobble together capital to get to the next step, to get this a little further?’” he said.
The effort may be a first in the packaged-goods world. Procter & Gamble, for instance, has a program called Connect + Develop, in which it collaborates with “individual innovators, small- and medium-sized business partners [and] universities,” and other entrepreneurial entities on new ideas. Clorox’s Pine-Sol, on the other hand, gives out grants and scholarships to women who are making “a powerful difference in their homes or communities.” None, however, provide business funding to women, as K-C’s program does.
Tony Palmer, CMO for K-C, said the program taps into one of marketing’s core lessons, which is that “great ideas on innovation tend to come from the consumer.”
Said Palmer: “What we’ve learned over the years is that by opening up your mind to where ideas come from and truly getting close to your consumer and listening to them is the best way to innovate and come up with new ideas.”
K-C is promoting the campaign via ads and links on its Huggies homepage, as well as partnering with influencers like Maria Bailey, owner of BSM Media, a player in the “marketing to moms” space. Bailey will blog and tweet to get the word out. K-C, too, is tapping social media for the launch.
The effort comes as the Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on bloggers who accept money from advertisers without disclosing the relationship. Last month, for instance, the agency announced that it had investigated clothing retailer Ann Taylor for offering gift card prizes of between $50 to $500 to bloggers who attended its summer fashion preview event. (The FTC decided not to take action against the brand.)
When asked if K-C’s program could be seen as a form of blog payola, Marti Barletta, founder of The TrendSight Group, a company that specializes in marketing to women, said there was nothing untoward about the company’s approach. “As far as this goes, companies have been incentivizing consumers for ages and ages and ages,” she said, adding that “this isn’t all that different from a sweepstakes or contest” offer except that it’s more impactful.