Nicole Urquhart wanted to help new mothers and their infant children and knew just how—with a transport service. She had learned a workable model as a transportation specialist in the military. She had learned that women with infants needed more transportation options from working for the Racine school system on family involvement. But it was President Obama who set Nicole’s plans in motion. At a conference on barriers women face in accessing health care, he spoke with Nicole about the infant mortality crisis in southeastern Wisconsin, which has the highest infant death rates in the nation. When job cuts presented Nicole with the opportunity to do something new, she started planning to launch Baby Express.
Information, case management, referrals, and more
Nicole started Baby Express as a transport company for moms with young infants. Her “Pinkmobiles” attract attention—the brightly-painted vehicles were purchased from Cancer for the Cure.
But there’s more. As Baby Express grows, the company is becoming a nexus for infant-related health services. Nicole has purchased a physical location where retail tenants will offer services and products moms need, from baby food and breast pumps to stress-reducing yoga and lactation coaching. The scarcity of supermarkets and the closing of Babies-R-Us stores in the Racine area have created a gap that Baby Express will fill. Nicole sees how this empowers women economically: “We can be a stepping stone to good employment. We’re teaching women they can be breastfeeding moms in nontraditional workplaces” like commercial driving and construction.
As a commercial non-emergency transportation company, “The biggest challenge is insurance coverage,” Nicole admits; “It limits our ability to expand the fleet.” She is exploring options to keep the business viable in the face of disruption from regulatory changes or increased competition.
Accomplishments with the SBDC at UW-Parkside:
- Consulting support and referrals
- Regulatory compliance
- Cash flow planning
“The SBDC has been vital to my business”
Nicole discovered Wisconsin’s Small Business Development Centers through a class on branding and social media offered through Wisconsin Women’s Business Corporation (WWBIC). At the time, Nicole was starting her business and needed funding. Mary Fischer-Tracy was the WWBIC lender for Southeast Wisconsin who assisted her. A few years later, Mary joined the Small Business Development Center as a Business Consultant and assisted Nicole again when she sought help in cash flow planning, strategy development, and expansion plans that include purchasing a building and more vehicles. Mary observed, “There were all kinds of nuances about this business—fluctuating fuel costs and getting paid by insurance companies, for example.” Mary helped Nicole develop financial projections.
Now, Nicole and Mary meet regularly to make sure Baby Express stays on track. Mary said, “She’s so smart! A very positive person, very proud of her accomplishments, eager to share with other people.”
“The SBDC has been vital,” Nicole exclaimed. The SBDC helped Baby Express develop a trip-ordering mobile app for clients and HIPAA-compliant video-streaming for their case managers. “We need to be able to work with new moms at any time, anywhere,” Nicole said, “because latching problems can happen in the middle of the night.”
Nicole appreciates the SBDC’s assistance with compliance in hiring practices and candidate evaluation. The SBDC’s training and referrals were helpful, as was “the support and backing—we don’t realize how important that is” to a new entrepreneur, Nicole commented. Mary kept Nicole focused on Baby Express’s finances: “What she cares about the least, I care about the most,” Mary kidded.
What’s next for Baby Express? “We’ve had an increase in volume of 25 to 30%,” Nicole said. Managing rapid growth in a highly-regulated niche means Nicole and the SBDC will continue to work together.