In 2014, at 22-years-old and with a daughter on the way, James Spencer was scared.
“Everything I’d read, everything other parents would tell me was about what could go wrong,” he says. “Before my daughter was even born, I began worrying about her safety.”
At the top of his list of concerns were the nighttime hours when both he and his daughter would, presumably, be asleep. “Anything could happen then,” he says. “I could be asleep and maybe wouldn’t even realize it.”
So the Clearwater native got to work designing a safe sleeping environment for his daughter, one that he hoped would reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). For his prototype, he used breathable mesh, which he stretched over the edges of a laundry basket, to create a hammock-like surface that mimicked the beneficial properties of the womb. He was pleased with the product, which he named Crescent Womb, and happy to see that his daughter had a comfortable and safe place to sleep.
“But I realized people would think I was crazy carrying a laundry basket around for my daughter,” Spencer says.
At the time, he was a business student at St. Petersburg College.
Though he was happy with his design, he wasn’t sure what his next step should be. Seeking guidance in 2015, he discovered the Technical Arts Facility for Innovation and Entrepreneurship -- now called the Florida Business Incubator (FBI) – which was part of the then-newly formed Clearwater Business SPARK, a network of resources for small business owners and entrepreneurs.
He began regularly attending the Incubator’s roundtable discussions. At these meetings, he met a variety of mentors who answered his questions, gave him ideas and held him to task.
“I’d leave a meeting, work on the ‘homework’ they gave me, and I’d complete it before the next time we met,” he says. “They gave me structure and really forced me to be accountable.”
Without FBI and SPARK, Spencer says Crescent Womb
never would have been a success. They helped him with everything from creating a more professional prototype to obtaining a patent to marketing and raising capital.
During his August 2016 Kickstarter campaign to launch the company, he raised more than $130,000.
He recalls how stressful the first few days of the crowdfunding campaign were, though. “It just wasn’t taking off,” he says. “It was frustrating. We put so much work into it.”
Then one night while he slept, his phone went off at 2 a.m. Someone had backed his Kickstarter campaign. A few minutes later, it went off again, and he continued to get alerts non-stop throughout the night.
The next morning, Spencer discovered that an Australian publication had picked up on Crescent Womb’s launch. From there, scores of publications and content-driven websites around the globe, including Business Insider and The Daily Mail, featured Crescent Womb. By the time his Kickstarter campaign was over, his crowdfunding video had gone viral with more than 18 million views.
With this initial wave of success, he leaned on the Florida Business Incubator more than ever. With so many orders, he needed to quickly and inexpensively mass produce enough products to keep his customers happy. He hired a handful of professional seamstresses to hand sew the orders, but soon realized he underestimated how long this would take. Through his mentors at the Florida Business Incubator, he found a local production company that could mass produce Crescent Womb for him. Since then, he has found a bigger production facility just outside Orlando.
In the short period since Spencer launched the company, it also continues to outgrow its office space. He went from renting a desk at the Incubator’s former space in downtown Clearwater to an office in Safety Harbor and finally, to his newest space in Seminole. He already anticipates Crescent Womb will need a larger office in the not-so-distance future. “I just hope we don’t have to leave here before our lease is up,” he says.
Sales for Crescent Womb remain strong, he adds, and he’s currently designing a portable version of the product. “It will weigh less than a pound,” he says. “You can bring it anywhere.”
He says he plans to return to the Incubator whenever needed to seek advice as his business grows and to share his story with up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
“You don’t forget where you came from,” Spencer says. “And no matter how successful you are, you never stop learning. There’s always going to be something you don’t know.”
This story is underwritten by the City of Clearwater's Department of Economic Development. Learn more about Clearwater Business SPARK. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.