A mother looking to prevent cases of sudden infant death syndrome in Maryland has won $25,000 to help fund her “baby box” startup concept.
As a member of Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab’s 2016-2017 cohort, Shantell Roberts has been working on a venture around Portable Alternative Cribs, through her nonprofit Touching Young Lives Inc.
The project aims to encourage safe sleep for infants and is a spinoff of a baby box concept seen in Finland. There, the government provides small cardboard boxes to pregnant mothers, designed to keep babies well-positioned for safe sleep. The boxes are filled with bedding, clothes and other baby supplies. About 40,000 boxes are given out each year and the program is believed to be one of the contributing factors to Finland’s low infant mortality rates.
Roberts was intrigued by the practice and saw the potential for a similar venture to benefit mothers in Maryland.
“I wanted to help families that don’t have a lot of living space or transient populations, like refugees or the homeless, with learning how to keep babies safe,” Roberts said. “I want to help create a new safe sleep culture, and help everyone to understand that [sudden infant death syndrome] is something that is very much preventable.”
The project is personal for Roberts, whose infant daughter died unexpectedly of pneumonia in 2011. In response, she started learning more about infant death cases, and has worked on efforts to help educate families on safe sleep practices for babies. She also works as a safe sleep coordinator with the Baltimore City Health Department’s B’More for Healthy Babies initiative. Infant death cases have been a particular focus for the health department since 2009, when cases of sudden infant death spiked to 27.
A pitch on her Portable Alternative Cribs concept won Roberts a $25,000 funding prize this week. Nine other startups participated in the Social Innovation Lab, most of which focused on confronting problem facing Baltimore City, like improving primary health care access and reducing food insecurity for urban families.