At the end of August, Hippo Hug was announced as a recipient of a contribution from the Government of Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Fund, part of the greater Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, a $2-billion investment seeking to double the number of women-owned businesses by 2025. During this second round of funding a total of ten Alberta ventures received up to $100,000 each in support of their expanding their reach to new markets.
At the news conference, current Liberal Party candidate for Edmonton Centre Randy Boissonnault said “Ninety-nine per cent of Canadian businesses are small- or medium-sized enterprises, and fewer than 16 per cent of those are majority-run and owned by women.”
Boissonnault referred to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, which suggests that Canada can add as much as $150 billion to the economy by 2026 simply by advancing gender equality, which is “significant,” he said. “And yet, in 2018 The New York Times reported that there are more guys named ‘James’ as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies than there are women (in total).” In addition, pitches made by male entrepreneurs were funded 68 per cent of the time. When women made the exact same pitch, the success rate was 32 per cent. Women business owners are nearly twice as likely to be rejected for financing due to insufficient collateral, and nearly twice as likely to be characterized as high risk due to the industries in which they operate, Boissonnault said.
Leslie Brooks is the founder of Hippo Hug, and began her business out of her home in 2008. as a home therapist. She created a weighted blanket for a young client with autism, and the family reported its amazing potential for providing restorative relaxation and restful sleep.
The Story of the Evolution of Hippo Hug
The Work to be Done
The funding received from the government will be put towards expanding Brooks’ effort to normalize the use of weighted blankets in the health care field.
“The funding is specific to a project focusing on incorporating weighted blankets in the health care market. We’re expanding into a more business-to-business type environment, so we’re looking at targeting hospitals, long-term care facilities, first responders and health care distributors,” Brooks said. Some of the work that will take place will be on updating the Hippo Hug brand to appeal to a professional audience, as well as perfecting their design for a weighted blanket with a sanitary fabric that is impermeable but provides breathability for patient comfort. Standard weighted blankets must be laundered between use by one individual to another, and so Hippo Hug is looking to provide the right solution.
In her application, Brooks wrote, “Hippo Hug seeks to further enhance the health care industry in a dramatic way through the adoption of a new treatment/product. There is a need in health care for a quick and easy-to-implement intervention for patients experiencing a variety of symptoms, but most specifically anxiety, fear, agitation, stress and discomfort.
“Frontline staff often spend extra time with patients in distress attempting to calm and comfort them … weighted blankets are an identified solution that can help to reduce anxiety in patients and lead to better customer service outcomes.”
The Power of a Female-Owned and Operated Business
Although Hippo Hug’s staff is currently 100 per cent female, Brooks says that she didn’t set out specifically for it to be that way. But the kind of work appeals to women, she says.
“Women just tend to be more used to dealing with care-focused products and jobs, and have that sort of mindset.”
She describes her staff as collaborative problem-solvers. Skilled sewers and tailors, the group also has experience as mothers and caretakers, so that sensitivity is woven into the fabric of the company. It’s not that Brooks deliberately hired an all-female staff, it’s just something that happened and it’s been for the benefit of the company. As clients come in to the storefront, they are met by sympathetic and knowledgeable staff members who truly want to help provide the best sleep and restorative rest possible. The starts with Hippo Hug’s unique Try Before You Buy program,” which allows people to “test” different blankets before making a purchase. Weighted blankets are an investment in mental health and well-being, and Hippo Hug is there for their clients right from step one of the purchase.
Brooks is also happy to provide other advice for getting a good night’s sleep, such as trying tight pajamas, keeping the room cooler, and designing a relaxing bedtime ritual. She will also work with clients to potentially have their blankets covered by benefits or a third party. Weighted blankets are not a trend, Brooks says, and that she worries that larger company that just pump out blankets may ruin their reputation. There’s education that goes along with owning a weighted blankets and that starts with understanding why they work.
Weighted blankets apply what is known as deep pressure touch stimulation. Also known as “touch therapy,” deep pressure touch stimulation relaxes the nervous system by applying even, firm pressure, similar to a hug or a gentle massage. Bodies switch from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system, which experts describe as a move from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest”. The parasympathetic nervous system causes the heart to slow down, muscles to relax, and circulation to improve. Bodies begin to produce the “happy” endorphins associated with exercise. At the same time comes the release of dopamine and serotonin, both of which assist with motivation, memory, impulse control, attention, behaviour, sleep, and digestion.
Embracing Hippo Hug
Brooks started out with one $200 sewing machine, which didn’t last very long before breaking. She then borrowed another machine for a year. Describing herself initially as very “risk-averse,” it took a little while before Brooks felt confident enough to invest in a $1,500 machine, which she says was a “big deal.”
Now Brooks buys thousands of dollars’ worth of fabric and extra machines without thinking of it much, but she is still reticent to put her business in any kind of potential jeopardy. Sometimes she doesn’t pay herself, ensuring she pays her staff and the bills first. But it’s this kind of social concern that makes Hippo Hug what it is. It is not a simple weighted blanket factory, it is involved in the community through numerous charities, and is also deeply involved with its customers, as these many testimonials reveal.
Simply put, Brooks says she wants “people to sleep better, live better and be more healthy.”
As her business keeps growing from producing 60 blankets in 2012 to 1,776 in 2018, Brooks has had moments of trepidation. She says, “I came home the other night and said to my husband that I was having another day when I was feeling over my head. He said, ‘You’re absolutely not, but you do have to swim.’”
As a way to keep her head above water, Brooks says she surrounds herself with experts, reminds herself that she has gotten her company this far and has been successful in nearly every endeavor, and so, “as long as I swim, I can do it.”
Everyone feels like that at different points of their business development, Brooks says, when they are uncomfortable and that is disconcerting. She mentions the analogy of a lobster, which has to feel uncomfortable while shedding their exoskeleton in order to grow a new one.
“You can’t grow without feeling uncomfortable, because uncomfortable is the ‘push’ to grow.”