Helen Davies was inspired to set up her business by her daughter Keira’s messy eating. Having previously run a window cleaning business, Helen already had an entrepreneurial mindset, but her success with her toddler-friendly weaning products has brought her international distribution deals and has also led to her recently being named one of women’s networking and careers site WeAreTheCity.com’s top 100 female Rising Stars for 2018.
Helen’s background is not in business, however, but in education. Having graduated in Psychology, she worked as a learning mentor in a Salford school and then as a Connexions personal advisor working across multiple schools in Nuneaton. Her job involved helping young people overcome barriers to learning so they could realise their potential and access the support services they needed. She says: “Most important was giving people skills and choices to make informed decisions to enable them to enter a working life, empowering themselves, despite adversity.”
Helen [pictured with her children] had always had an entrepreneurial mindset. She was married to a window cleaner and in 2005 the ‘Work at Height’ health and safety laws changed, opening up an opportunity to stand out in the market as a ‘safe contractor’. Helen sold her first house and invested the profit in her and her husband’s commercial window cleaning company. He did the work and she headed the company as Managing Director.
Helen learned the industry from scratch, including how to deal with B2B customers and how to interact in a corporate environment. She says: “The risk I took back then to leave my secure, rewarding job and set up a window cleaning company was in hindsight quite huge! We didn’t have a single customer the day our shiny new van arrived, but by three years later in 2008 and 2009 we were shortlisted as a finalists for the Midlands Business Awards ‘ Business Of the Year’ and me personally for ‘ Entrepreneur of the year’.”
By 2012 they had achieved national coverage, employed 18 people and their clients included the BBC, BP, Cadburys, RAF and Fort Dunlop Birmingham.
In November 2014 Helen gave birth to her second daughter Keira. Whilst on maternity leave she had trouble weaning her daughter. She says: “She was a little monkey who got far more enjoyment from throwing her food, bowls and plates more than anything else at mealtimes. I wanted to encourage independent feeding and learning, but it was difficult as nothing stayed put.”
Helen researched what was available in the UK to help mums and was disappointed with the options. She researched further afield and found that the USA had better options.
As a result she embarked on a self-funded mission to design her own unique product for the UK market. She named her brand EasyTots. She says: “I knew very little about growing a brand or the baby products industry so again was learning from absolute scratch. I immersed myself in this project and travelled to China alone to source a manufacturer that could help me achieve this.”
Just eight months and two prototypes later she was happy with her first product, The EasyMat. The EasyMat is a silicone plate and placemat in one piece with integrated happy face sections for food and four very strong corner suction cups. It launched on Amazon in early March 2016 and by May 2016 it was a bestselling item in the category. Helen was struggling with supply and demand so she decided to leave her previous business behind and give EasyTots the 100% commitment to take it forward.
The company gained an international and USA trademark for EasyTots and EasyMat in October 2016. Two months later, Helen launched the EasyMat Mini, a miniature version designed specifically for eating out and travel feeding with babies. The product was an immediate bestseller on Amazon and won a 2017 gold award for ‘Best Weaning’ item and was showcased on ITV’s This Morning with Phil and Holly in a best baby gadgets feature.
In September 2017 Helen exhibited the EasyTots range at a global trade fair in Cologne. This was Helen’s first opportunity to offer her products on a distribution basis for export to other countries. The company now sells EasyMats to five other EU countries. A visit to a baby fair in Hong Kong secured more distribution agreements for countries across the Far East.
Helen says: “My mission is to to continue to make innovative, creative and useful products. In fact our slogan is; ‘practical stuff, made fun’. My vision is for EasyTots and its products like EasyMat to become a UK (if not international) household name, a must-have item for children, a recognised brand.”
Helen is not the only working mum with an education background named in WeAreTheCity.com’s top 100 female Rising Stars. Susie Wolstenholme [pictured] was recognised for her work helping further education students be job ready and able to compete with university graduates. Susie herself left school at 16 with few academic qualifications. She worked as an Accounts Junior in a fabrication company which granted her day release to study at a college where she later taught. After developing an appetite for learning in an environment where she had more control over her studies, she took a full-time degree in Business Information Technology. In her third year she spent 15 months working in China. She says: “This gave me an exceptional opportunity to discover my potential at a young age and I ended the year as a successful manager where I led, managed and trained a thriving team of Chinese staff in the front office of a large five-star tourist hotel in Xian.”
On graduation she took a training job with a publicly funded private training company in the East End of London where, alongside a team of four, she developed a set of NVQ programmes in IT for unemployed adults from ethnic minority backgrounds. On discovering she enjoyed teaching and was good at it she then qualified to become a Lecturer in Further Education, where she did her second teaching practice at a school and university in Hungary. On her return she became a Lecturer in an FE College.
Since then she has worked in two FE Colleges where she has developed and managed a series of GNVQ / degrees courses and worked with employers to develop their NVQ provision. Her current role as a Senior Lecturer is multi-faceted. Her roles include being Course Director across a number of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in Business and Management, Dissertation Co-ordinator, Placement Lead, Erasmus and Study Abroad Co-ordinator and organiser of a series of extra-curricular activities across the School. “My job is to ensure that our students are graduate career ready, with a breadth of experience and can compete against students from traditional universities,” she says.