Without any prior business experience—or any real baking experience—20-year-old Debbi Fields used the money she earned as a ball girl at Oakland Athletics games to buy ingredients to bake cookies that she sold from her home starting in 1977. From those humble beginnings grew one of the world’s most successful dessert companies in Mrs. Fields Cookies. She soon sold franchise rights to individual operators all over the country, and in 1990 she sold the company to an investment firm for millions.
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In 1928, Dorothy Gerber was instructed by her pediatrician to start feeding her new child strained vegetables. When Dorothy discovered the process of making baby food was arduous and annoying, she began making recipes for baby food and convinced her husband, who owned a local canning company, to try selling it. Gerber Baby Food quickly became the market leader in prepared infant nutrition and to this day it currently controls 83 percent of the baby food market in the United States.
Photo via Gerber
When Ruth, a former stenographer who co-founded a plastics company called Mattel with her husband, noticed her young daughter Barbara was growing out of her toys, she got the idea to create a plastic doll with an adult body. Her husband thought it wouldn’t sell, but Ruth pressed on and eventually got him to create a prototype for the New York Toy Fair in 1959. That doll, of course, was Barbie, and she would rocket the Handler family to multi-millionaire status.
As a young woman growing up in the 1910s, Marion Donovan spent a lot of time watching her father work in an Indiana manufacturing plant. Years later, as a stay-at-home mom in Connecticut, she used those skills to invent something that would change motherhood forever. Frustrated with the constant grind of changing damp cloth diapers, Donovan took an old shower curtain and fashioned it into the world’s first waterproof diaper cover. It was an immediate hit when it debuted in stores in 1949, and she sold the patent in 1951 for $1 million. Donovan is largely thought to have come up with the idea for a disposable diaper, but when she brought it to manufacturers she was laughed off the premises. It wasn't until nearly a decade later that Victor Mills, creator of Pampers®, would invent the first one.
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When Betsy Kaufman—a Houston, Texas wife and mother—got frustrated by screwing up her hard-boiled eggs when she peeled them, the idea for Eggies—plastic shells to boil eggs in—was born. She took the idea to Edison Nation, a company that manufactures infomercial products, and they were an instant success, selling more than 5 million units at $10 a pop.
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Often considered America’s first self-made woman millionaire, Sarah Breedlove—known to the public as Madam C.J. Walker—captured a market brilliantly with her scalp and hair care products for black women. Breedlove was concerned with hair loss and researched a number of popular folk remedies before developing a shampoo made with sulfur that would improve scalp health. The product was a huge success, and Walker built a factory in Indianapolis, where she donated a large sum of money to help build the city's YMCA in 1913.
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Housework can be brutal on the hands, so it’s not surprising that a stay-at-home mom would want to invent something to help out. Rosie Herman had a career as a manicurist before she met her husband Neil and gave birth to twins. Although staying at home with her new girls was fulfilling, Rosie wanted to contribute to the family financially. She did so by inventing the One Minute Manicure, a hand repair treatment that started with 10 jars to give to friends and family and grew into a multi-million dollar business.
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MORE: Famous Mom Inventors
Stay-at-home mom and former teacher Julie Aigner-Clark was frustrated that she couldn't find a video on the market that introduced kids to arts and music. So she went down to her basement one day in 1996 and shot one herself. That humble video became Baby Einstein, which quickly became a cult hit. It spawned many sequels, and Disney bought the company from Aigner-Clark in 2001. Despite a controversial study that called into question the video's effect on child development (and a Disney recall of the videos sold between 2004 to 2009), they are still a favorite among kids and parents.
Inspiration can strike from anywhere, even in the midst of the most menial household chores. For stay-at-home mom Kim Lavine, it was watching her husband feed some deer corn kernels out of a burlap bag. The shape of the bag inspired her to create the Wuvit, a spa pillow that you could heat in a microwave. After just eight weeks, the cunning little invention had racked up almost a quarter million dollars in sales. She’s since leveraged her success into a career consulting with other prospective entrepreneurs and helping them turn their dreams into reality.
Photo via Mommy Millionaire
Sometimes, all it takes is a simple solution to a basic problem. That was the story for Sandy Stein, who spent over thirty years working as a flight attendant before she decided to pursue an idea in hopes of earning enough money to become a stay at home mom. That idea was a little device that connects a set of keys to a bag, keeping them from getting lost inside the purse or diaper bag. Called the Finders Key Purse, it's now worth more than $25 million - more than enough for Stein to stay home for the rest of her life.
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Crocs are an easy target for jokes, but mom Sheri Schmelzer is the one laughing all the way to the bank. One of the defining features of the rubber clogs are their holes, and those holes gave Schmelzer an idea: a product that allowed people to personalize and decorate their Crocs. After all, who wouldn't want to make their Crocs even more eye-catching? So Schmelzer created Jibbitz, which are little charms that fit in the shoes' holes. Thanks to the tiny baubles, Schmelzer now has a net worth of more than $300 million.
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It's only natural that a woman who's been through childbirth invented Spanx, which are compression garments that help women fit in tight clothing. Mom Sarah Blakely created the undergarments when she was working in sales. She put everything she had into the project including researching patent law to driving to different manufacturing factories. The dedication paid off, as at age 41 Blakely became one of the youngest self-made billionaires.
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No matter how many techniques she tried, stay at home mom Heather Allard could not get her second daughter to remain in a swaddle blanket throughout an entire nap. This inspired her to create what she called the Swaddleaze, which - as its name suggests - makes swaddling easy. After spending $50,000 to create the product, she sold it and her next invention, the Blankeaze, for six figures. She then created (and later sold) a site called The Mogul Mom, which helps support women in building small businesses.
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It was fear of a potential tragedy that led Iris Shamus to her invention. After finding out her young son had a nut allergy, she grew concerned about how he'd communicate the allergy to teachers and parents of friends when she wasn't around. She looked for some sort of visual indicator he could wear to remind adults of his allergy, but couldn't find anything that seemed appropriate. So, with her son, she came up with a cast of characters including Soy Cool, Nutso, Professor Wheatley and P. Nutty, each one representing a common allergy. These characters were printed on dog tags and bracelets, and before long Shamus found herself a presenter for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Image via The Talko
It's not always brand new ideas that are the basis for greatness. Sometimes, all it takes is adding a new twist to a classic concept. This was the case for stay at home mom Nicole Donnelly, who decided to take action when she noticed a serious hole in the babywear market. Her daughter needed to spend time without bottoms on in order to battle the symptoms of diaper rash, but without pants on she's quickly become cold. The answer? Leg warmers! The idea, which also brought convenience to the diaper changing process, was so beloved by moms everywhere that Donnelly has now built up a multi million dollar net worth.
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Single mom Joy Mangano provides an excellent example of the good that can come when problems are reframed as opportunities. That's what happened when she used her frustration with the dirty process of wringing out wet mops by hand to inspire an innovative solution. She invested $250 to create the Miracle Mop, then started selling it on QVC and at trade shows. Now, it brings in about $10 million a year. Since then she's continued inventing, creating many other products that solve common problems.
Image via Joy Mangano
All it took for stay at home mom Kim Lavine to become a multi-millionaire was a bag of feed corn, a husband who didn't clean up and a spark of inspiration. She was trying to figure out what to give the teachers of her two sons for Christmas one winter when she sat down at her sewing machine and saw a bag of corn leaning against it. Her husband had used it to feed deer in the yard and then tossed against the machine. That's when the idea struck: Why not sew pillows filled with corn for the teachers? It could be heated up in the microwave or cooled in the freezer, depending on preference. Not only were the presents a success, but Lavine realized she had a hit product on her hands. She named it the Wuvit and began selling in mall kiosks, and it was only a matter of time before her company Green Daisy was worth millions.
Image via Kim Lavine
Creating fragrances and creams had always been a hobby for mom Lisa Price, but when her first baby began dealing with eczema, that hobby became especially useful. She came up with a moisturizer called Honey Pudding that cleared the rash right up, and soon expanded into an entire line of products called Carol's Daughter. After selling at local craft fairs, she opened an online outlet and a shop in Brooklyn with her husband. An appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show the line really took off, and soon after Price also had a book out detailing her journey to business success.
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Tamara Monosoff had a relatively basic problem on her hands: She wanted to prevent her young children from unspooling the entire roll of toilet paper. But with no product available to deal with the issue, she had to come up with her own solution. That was the TP Saver, a rod similar to those on hair rollers that can be locked into place and prevent kids from pulling down the roll. Working with a machinist, an engineer, a safety tester, focus groups and a Chinese manufacturer, she patented the product and managed to get it into 9,000 grocery stores across the country. She now also writes books about inventing and runs a website for mompreneurs called Mom Invented.
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Catching a cold wasn't in Victoria Knight-McDowell's plan, but as a mother and second grade teacher, it was hard to avoid. It took years of experimenting, but she finally came up with an herbal remedy: Airborne Effervescent Health Formula. After just one year on the market, she was making as much money from her product as she was at her daytime teaching job. Since then, she's employed five people and done $21 million of business in a year… and still hasn't left the classroom.
Image via SF Gate
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