For a basic baby item, picking the right pacifier is surprisingly daunting. Many new parents have no idea how many different pacifiers are on the market until they are staring bleary-eyed at store shelves. Babies are also notoriously picky about their soothers and often reject several brands before finding their favorite, but it’s also important to use pacifiers that won’t hinder teeth development.
Founded by a team including a biomedical engineer, dentist and industrial designer, Smilo is a new direct-to-consumer brand that wants to make buying pacifiers and other essential baby products easier for parents. The site launches today and has received $3.25 million so far in seed funding from Brand Foundry and Norwest Venture Partners. Its first lineup of products include pacifiers, bottles designed to reduce gas or ear infections and accessories like snack containers and pacifier clips that don’t damage baby clothing.
Smilo chief executive Josh Wiesman and medical advisor Dr. David Tesini, a dentist, have licensed their patents for medical devices and other products to other companies for more than 20 years. They decided to launch an e-commerce company after seeing a gap in the market for functional but attractive baby products.
Wiesman patented his first pacifier design while he was still a sophomore in college. He first became interested in getting a medical or dental device patent while brainstorming ways to increase his chances of getting into medical or dental school. During winter break, he went to Dr. Tesini for a routine teeth cleaning. After spying a patent displayed on the wall, Wiesman told his dentist that he hoped to get his own patent, too. Dr. Tesini pulled out a folder for a pacifier that he stopped working on in 1985 and the two began a 20-year collaboration.
The two also founded TW Innovations, which makes pediatric orthodontic devices. Wiesman says he feels that there isn’t a big difference between creating medical devices and making baby supplies. “The design and problem-solving process is the same. I think the opportunity to create amazing, game-changing products in the baby and child space is really what motivated me to make the switch,” he says.
Smilo currently makes two pacifiers, a one-piece silicone model called the Smilo Newborn Pacifier and the Smilo Pacifier, which comes in three sizes and is reversible to make it easier for babies to pop into their mouths.
Wiesman explains that some pacifiers may collapse while babies are using them, which can cause them to develop a cross-bite. Smilo’s patented pacifier designs avoid that by expanding slightly while in a baby’s mouth instead. Smilo’s team looked for data about pacifier design and palate dimensions and growth patterns for babies and toddlers up to three years of age in medical and dental journals. Then Wiesman says they hired a team to model a pacifier using finite element analysis to “understand how it flexed and stretched in the mouth during soothing.”
There are also many bottles already on the market that are designed to help babies with gas (popular brands include Dr. Brown and Avent). Wiesman says the design of Smilo’s nipples are based on the milk ducts inside a breast, making it easier for babies to eat without sucking in too much air or putting too much pressure on their mouth, stomachs and ears, and it also has a vent to let in air and keep from creating a vacuum.
Smilo will launch more products, including things for kids in other age groups, over the next months.