When Lisa Jarrett was expecting her fourth child in 1991, her obstetrician husband pulled out an article he had read in a medical journal about a prenatal audio development system.
Created by physician and researcher Brent Logan, the system is designed to help a baby's brain develop before it is born by introducing simple rhythms similar to the mother's heartbeat.
"It's a cognitive curriculum," Jarrett said.
After obtaining Logan's tapes and using them through her next three pregnancies, she was sold on the concept. Like Victor Kiam, who loved his Remington shaver so much he bought the company, Jarrett and her husband purchased the international marketing rights and in 1998 formed the Carmel-based BabyPlus Co.
"I had seen a Learning Channel special that featured Dr. Logan and that led me to him," Jarrett said. She contacted Logan to find out why it was so difficult to find the product, which had been featured in scientific journals and
magazine-"not typical places where an expectant mom would look."
Jarrett's company has 22 distributors who sell the product in 60 countries. It's available at brick-andmortar stores like Mimi Maternity, Pea in the Pod and Destination Maternity, and online at Amazon, Babies R Us, Johnson & Johnson's Baby Center, Wal-Mart and other Web sites.
She also redesigned BabyPlus as a portable microchip unit about the size of a bar of soap that expectant moms wear for two hours a day. The original unit consisted of 16 cassette tapes.
Jarrett says unit sales from June 2006 to June 2007 are up almost 120 percent and are expected to reach 12,000 this year. She plans to launch a new product design in 2008 and a line of post-natal learning products geared toward newborn to age 3 in 2009.
A biologist by training, Jarrett earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Dayton and is working on a master's degree at Butler University. The mother of seven-with four children still at home-admits it's been difficult balancing her family and a growing business.
"I think that's why we haven't grown faster," she said. "We've experienced the best growth when I've been able to get great personnel, and that's happened in the last 18 months."
She hired a public relations agency last April and has launched a new advertising campaign and a partnership with the Association of Women's Obstetrical Neonatal Nurses.
Making people understand the importance of prenatal education is getting easier, Jarrett says, because of other early childhood education products and anecdotal evidence from parents who have used the product. Jarrett says her best marketing comes from parent testimonials.
But educational products like these have their share of critics. Some, like journalist Susan Gregory Thomas, author of "Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds," charge that educational products geared toward the zero-to-3-year-old market create even younger consumers with little evidence of their educational benefits. Jarrett disagrees.
"BabyPlus isn't about creating a genius any more than a vitamin makes a body builder," she said. "You would never [say] a mom who's taking a vitamin [is] trying to promote body building. She's trying to do more for the child. [BabyPlus] is about strengthening the part of the child that thinks and learns for a lifetime, and you have to start early." She understands that with any new concept there isn't universal overnight acceptance.
What's the biggest lesson she's learned as an entrepreneur?
"I was admittedly naÃ¯ve thinking that it couldn't be that difficult to create a business around BabyPlus," Jarrett said. "I'm glad I didn't know what I know now. I may not have done it. I am a busy person who is juggling a lot, but I believe so fully in BabyPlus that it was always about getting the simple notion understood one parent at a time."
She and her husband use the business that's grown from two employees to seven as a learning tool for their children.
"I tell our kids it's not about any magical, overnight success," Jarrett said. "It's always just about the hard work and staying with it."