‘We don’t get to turn off one thing or the other’: Baby Vend founder Jasmin Smith shares the reality of mompreneurs
Meet the mompreneur changing toddler travels with her company Baby Vend.
Epitomizing the balance between motherhood and entrepreneurship, founder Jasmin Smith turned to her eight-year-old son, whom she unexpectedly had to pick up early from school, and said, “Give Mommy 20 minutes to talk to the news, then we’ll be on our way home.”
“That’s the story,” Smith said, smiling into her smartphone’s front camera with the silhouette of her son looking out the backseat window in her blurred Zoom background. “You’re interviewing me from my car!”
And for the last eight years, this has become Smith’s reality. Despite beginning her entrepreneurial journey in college as a freelance entertainment consultant, the mother of two embarked on a new journey when founding Baby Vend in 2015 following the birth of her twins. Like many Black mothers, Smith experienced preeclampsia and hypertension and ultimately had to speak up while having twins in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
“It was interesting. When I have the twins in the NICU initially, that’s when this conversation of supplies and resources and need really started to come,” Smith shared with theGrio. “And I had to really advocate for myself when I was finally released from the hospital because I was going home with, like, nothing from the hospital, so I had to, like, make them give me stuff right.”
The dismissal and difficulties Smith experienced from the healthcare system sparked the flame that would ignite and lead to the creation of Baby Vend. But it was one mall experience that was the catalyst for Smith.
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One day while shopping with her infant twins, her baby boy leaked through his last diaper. Having a cart full of merchandise, two babies, and no more diapers in her baby bag, Smith designed a makeshift diaper out of $10 underwear and some napkins. This situation made the new mother at the time wonder how many other parents found themselves in the same predicament and inspired her to create Baby Vend, a network of vending machines stocked with baby supplies.
“I told myself I don’t want to just have another vending machine that has baby supplies in it. I want to make sure we really change how people think about families who travel and move together and supply access in general,” Smith explained. “I also told myself I could have a vending machine that has the traditional Gerber’s and all that stuff, or I could have a machine that is intentional on uplifting others, you know what I mean, and sharing opportunities.”
Since its founding in 2015, the company has expanded with machines in a growing number of cities and states across the country. By featuring numerous local, minority-owned small businesses like “Playtime Edventures” and “Bambino’s Babyfood,” Baby Vend machines allow small businesses to grow and gain exposure. These common children’s products are from brands you may not find in mainstream stores. Now, the Black-woman-owned brand is incorporating eco-friendly, compact, and convenient travel solutions for users designed for families on the go.
“Although we love our vending machines and have been able to successfully help a lot of traveling families, we understood early on that our vending machines could not fit in all spaces or help families on long flights or train rides or places with restricted space. So having these boxes that mirror our machines was essential,” Smith explained, Black Business reports.
The new “GoBox” allows family travelers to have all their necessities without the hassle of tracking down a vending machine. The “mini portable vending machines” come in two forms: the activity kit and the travel essentials. As a parent raising her kids with limited screen time, the activity-centered go-box features games to play in the car, affirmation cards and UNO cards, and other fun ways to bond, which was important to Smith.
“My desire with the activity go boxes was just like reminding people the fun that we used to have when traveling without the screen,” said Smith.
The travel essentials, which ensure parents have everything they need to care for their little ones, contribute to Smith’s overall goal of increasing accessibility for traveling parents. In fact, the Baby Vend founder hopes to one day commit a percentage of “GoBoxes” to nonprofits that support families in need and create a system that ensures parents leaving the hospital have at least 30 days’ worth of supplies, whether or not they have insurance.
Baby Vend has also created “GoPacks” for users with storage restrictions. The compact pouches come in three pre-packed versions: diaper-changing essentials, nutritional essentials, and activities kits.
Currently, the GoBoxes are available individually and for wholesale on the Baby Vend website. However, the brand is actively working on partnerships with hospitals, hotels, airlines and more.
In the meantime, Smith remains connected to one of her first loves, community advocacy and upliftment.
Smith also founded Umoja Coworking (derived from the Swahili term for unity). The business is based in Mountain View, Alaska, which was previously labeled the most diverse city in America, according to an analysis of census data. Mountain View also ranked on U.S. neighborhood analytics website Neighborhood Scout as “having a higher rate of childhood poverty than 95.1% of U.S. neighborhoods.” Smith intentionally placed Baby Vend and Umoja Coworking in the city to teach people that family and business do mix and to show that “Blackness is everywhere.”
Part of Umoja Coworking was Umoja Academy, which started as onsite childcare for parents using the coworking space before it became Umoja Cultural School, an initiative hosting spring break day camps and other culture- and community-driven, educational after-school programs.
“Whatever I do in business, I always commit a certain percentage to give back to the community in some way. I try hard to let my business be a platform to remind people that entrepreneurs have a lot of power to change the community as well.”
In addition to supporting Alaska’s youth in Anchorage, Smith’s non-profit has an “Ujamaa fund,” which puts money aside to help Black entrepreneurs in Alaska. For the community leader, it’s vital that her employees feel supported in whatever ways they need to thrive.
“I tell my staff this all the time, even my white staff, we don’t have to emulate [traditional] white culture here. We’re building our own culture. We are a village, and we run, and we treat each other differently here,” Smith explained. “If you’re not your whole self personally, you can’t be your whole self for me at work. So if I got to do something to help, you let me know.”
From allowing employees to bring their kids to work because they can’t find childcare to offering an open diaper pantry of surplus products from the vending machine, Smith prioritizes community over capital when leading her business. Ultimately, Smith understands the struggles of being a Black entrepreneur but, more importantly, being a Black mompreneur.
“Being a momtrepreneur, people have to understand we’re not just motivated by money and business,” Smith said.
“We’re not trying to emulate what Western society has said business is … We’re really trying to do that with our kids included, wanting our kids to be a part of it, wanting our kids to see the benefit of it,” Smith continued.
“It comes full circle, and it really does impact how we do business.”
Haniyah Philogene is a multimedia storyteller and Lifestyle reporter covering all things culture. With a passion for digital media, she goes above and beyond to find new ways to tell and share stories.
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