Better booster seat gives British immigrant a leg up
Israel's start-up culture helps nurture idea for older kids' car chair that's tiny, convenient and safer
Booster seats are supposed to make kids in cars safer, but they often do the opposite, according to Israeli entrepreneur Jon Sumroy. Bulky, oversized seats are not good fits for smaller children, plus it’s unlikely that parents will schlep around a big booster seat when taking their kids on the bus or in taxis.
To solve that, Sumroy developed mifold, a booster seat that is 10 times smaller than the typical booster seat and just as safe. The 48-year-old immigrant to Israel from the United Kingdom does not fit the profile of a typical young Israeli entrepreneur, and booster seats are not a tech product. But the start-up culture here has been a crucial part of his success, Sumroy said.
Unlike baby seats, which are usually very secure and have their own harness and shoulder straps, booster seats are meant for older kids and allow them to be securely fastened into regular seat and shoulder belts. But getting the child centered and belted safely can be difficult. Many parents – as many as 25% in Western countries -don’t know how to use the seats properly, and many of them just give up, strapping their kids into the back seat and hoping for the best.
Sumroy, a former marketing manager who has had extensive experience with consumer products, realized that with some adjustments, booster seats could be made easier to use.
Most children need booster seats starting around the age of 4 to better position the seatbelt across their body. Most booster seats are bulky and hard to carry around, Sumroy said, which is a problem for parents when they are carpooling, using taxis and rental cars, and traveling.
Parents, he believed, would go for a small booster seat they could carry around with them; such a seat would also be easier to manipulate.
“Car seat belts are designed for adults,” said Sumroy. “When a child uses an adult seat belt, the lap belt usually rests on the delicate stomach area, instead of on the hip bones. The shoulder belt, meanwhile, often sits on the neck or face, instead of on the shoulders. Both of these issues can cause significant injury in a collision.”
A regular booster seat solves those two issues, but a parent still has to adjust straps and belts since kids come in different sizes, said Sumroy. But the mifold mechanism holds the seat and shoulder belts down to match the child’s height and body contours, ensuring that they fit securely. In addition, it can easily be folded up, making it ideal for carpools, taxi rides, and even bus rides, Sumroy added.
Sumroy came to Israel in 1995. He was the marketing manager for the consumer goods company Unilever and was later the managing director for Johnson & Johnson in Israel. Sumroy first came up with the idea for the mifold in 2000, but did not pursue the idea until 2012, when he read an article that said that half of all American children did not use the right booster seat.
“I thought if there is a market potential of half the kids in America then maybe I should do something with this idea I had,” Sumroy said. “I did a very typical start-up thing and in my garage I built a prototype made of canvas maps, carabiner clips and straps and a sewing machine.”
Sumroy started working on mifold full-time in 2013 – at age 46, hardly typical of the Israeli entrepreneurs who are in their early 20s and do not have responsibilities like children and a mortgage.
That was tough, but living in Israel made it easier for him to start his business in his mid-40s, Sumroy said. “There is a mindset in this country of start-ups. It’s not unusual to have a conversation with someone who is setting up their own business, or wants to, or is working for a start-up. There is a mentality that there is something good or exciting about being in a start-up.”
This familiarity with start-ups helps him recruit people and deal with banks and suppliers. It also helps him when working abroad. “People hear that I am Israeli and there is an immediate acknowledgement in the US, in Europe, in Asia, of a quality and professionalism and skill that comes from Israeli start-ups,” he said. “All of those things means that you can take a risk.”
There are also a wide variety of experts here outside of high-tech, he said. Sumroy worked with Israeli industrial designers, mechanical engineers and material scientists.
“All gained their experience through the military or working on projects with the military,” he said. “I think there is a huge wealth of knowledge and experience that is unique because of the challenges that we have.”
Most venture capital firms are familiar with Israeli high-tech but are more skeptical of funding consumer products – although, said Sumroy, he personally did not have a hard time finding investors. The London-based investment fund JamJar is backing mifold, and a round of fundraising in January netted $1.2 million.
The product was first advertised at the beginning of June, and already there has been a great deal of interest from consumers, said Sumroy. The mifold will initially be marketed in the US, the United Kingdom and Israel. Eventually, he hopes to be able to ship the seats anywhere.
“Most companies try to create a need, then market products to satisfy that need, “ Sumroy said. “Mifold addresses a specific and existing problem. I must have met hundreds of mothers and parents and grandparents and taxi drivers and everybody who ever has children in the car. When I explain mifold to them they all say the same thing – I want one.”