They say that entrepreneurs are born, not made. In the case of a Western Cape mom who fell pregnant with quadruplets, however, the unexpected scale of her pending arrivals ignited not just a maternal instinct, but an entrepreneurial one as well.
"I have always been interested in entrepreneurship, and have my own consulting business in the risk assessment and security sector.
"However, when my quadruplets were born, I naturally became focused on the baby and childcare space, and started seeing gaps and opportunities - not just for working moms like me, but across the spectrum. That is how the Balambie was born," explains mom-of-five Marie Janse van Rensburg, founder of Chameleon Baby.
The company is responsible for a number of first-to-market solutions for mothers, including the Kangaroo Mother Care Wrap and their flagship product, the Balambie.
The Balambie is a mobile, portable cot made entirely of a strong corrugated material similar to extra-strength cardboard. It started life as a cost-effective solution for poor households that could not afford a wooden or traditional cot, or where space was a challenge. It has evolved over the past three years into a stylish, beautifully patterned, Department of Health-endorsed alternative to expensive, cumbersome camper cots and other portable sleep products on the market.
"The appeal of the Balambie lies in the fact that it is lightweight, easy to transport and assemble, stylish and safe, as well as excellent value for money. We are getting a lot of interest from outdoor stores, lifestyle retailers and the like," says Marie.
The first Balambies were designed to meet a dire need in poor and under-resourced communities, where babies by necessity sleep either on the floor, or in the same bed as their parents or caregivers. According to the Journal of Pediatrics and research by Unicef, among others, this can be a health and safety hazard.
In addition, many new mothers have little or no access to childcare information – even basic information such as what to do if your baby is dehydrated, what warning signs to look out for from a health perspective and so on.
In 2014 Marie managed to find a funding partner that allowed her to distribute 10 000 Balambies – printed with childcare information – into needy households across the country. The feedback was overwhelming.
"After distributing the Balambies we did a follow-up survey and found that 100% of mothers we surveyed were using the Balambie and finding it of value, including the health messaging. This led to us getting an endorsement for the product from the National Department of Health," she explains.
Marie’s initial vision for the product stemmed from her social conscience and is also rooted in her faith. "I have always been someone who is grateful for my blessings, and aware that so many others in our country do not have the same opportunities that I have had.
"The Balambie started out as a way for me to make a contribution and try and improve the lives of deserving moms and their babies, and that is still a big focus for us," she explains.
Expanding to the retail market
However, interest from friends and family in the product encouraged Marie and her team to develop a stylish, more upmarket version of the cot for the retail market – especially targeted at busy working moms, families who travel a lot and also schools, creches and corporate daycare facilities.
"The Balambie is safe, strong and DoH-endorsed as a comfortable and ergonomically appropriate solution for babies up to 12kg in weight. We have developed an inner cover that can be removed and washed, a comfy mattress and a really stylish carry bag that makes traveling with your little ones an absolute breeze, all at a very good price.
"We officially launched the retail range at the MamaMagic Baby Expo in Cape Town recently and I am so thrilled at the response we received," she adds.
Marie continues to look for funding partners and ways to distribute the Balambies for free to needy moms through her non-profit organisation the Holo Foundation. The commercial version of the product is marketed through her retail brand, Chameleon Baby.
"I have this world map all over the house and on my desktop screen, where there are Balambies in every country. This is my vision and my dream, to conquer the South African market and export to various countries.
We will always focus on the health information aspect of the Balambie, and are hoping that we will grow so much that we can keep giving back in the form of subsidised Balambies for deserving moms. But the product has evolved and taken on a life of its own, and I am very excited to see how modern moms relate to the new version that we have designed just for them," she says.
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