Who'll Be Our Mumpreneur of the Year? It's a Major New Trend the Women Juggling Motherhood with Se
The growing number of mothers setting up successful small businesses from home while raising a young family is one of the most inspiring trends of our age.Known as 'mumpreneurs', they've been responsible for creating some of the most famous brands in British business, from the White Company to Jo Malone and Ultimo underwear.Today, The Daily Mail proudly launches our first Mumpreneur Of The Year Award, and over coming weeks we are asking you, our readers, to nominate inspirational mothers who have set up their own businesses from scratch while caring for children.Scroll down for videoShe could be your daughter, your friend, your sister, your mother - or even yourself. The award is running in association with the NatWest Everywoman Awards, which recognises business excellence in female entrepreneurs.Now in their 13th year - and with an esteemed judging panel including White Company founder Chrissie Rucker MBE, interior design brand creator Cath Kidston MBE and fashion designer Amanda Wakeley OBE - the NatWest Everywoman Awards have attracted thousands of entries, recognising the business achievements of countless women across the country.To kick off the call for nominees, we spoke to four dedicated mumpreneurs who have juggled motherhood with launching four unique businesses - from chocolate and cleaning products to innovative baby clothing and chair covers...Nicole Graham, 41, is the founder of Zippy Suits. She lives in Cheshire with her husband, Jonathan, and children Ollie, eight, and four-year-old Leila.The lightbulb moment came when Nicole was on maternity leave with her second child, Leila, then nine months old. Grappling with her Babygro poppers as Leila wriggled on the changing mat, Nicole thought there had to be an easier way. Surely a zip made a lot more sense?The 41-year-old mother-of-two from Cheshire decided to give it a try: 'I took out the poppers on one of Leila's Babygros and sewed in a zip,' she says.'Suddenly, I could have her in and out in seconds. It saved countless daily traumas, so I made a few more - each with a single zip running along the inside leg, a zip guard to protect the baby's skin and a cover to stop her playing with the toggle and pulling it open - and gave them to other mothers to try. The feedback was overwhelming.'Redundancy from her job as a market researcher a few months later finally provided the push she needed to turn her idea into a business - and Zippy Suits was born. 'Working for 15 years as a market researcher helped,' she says. Armed with a laptop - and in between Leila's naps - Nicole found a suitable local manufacturer, designed the patterns, built a website, co-ordinated marketing and approached retailers'I did it all on a shoestring - my grandmother bought the laptop for me - and I had to take out a Â£4,000 loan a year later, but the rest was self-funded. It was risky but exciting.'The first Zippy Suits went on sale in February 2012, and the company now employs eight people and sells more than 27,000 products a month to 13 different countries.Last year, turnover reached Â£525,000 and they are stocked in Fenwick, on Tesco Direct and in more than 100 independent shops.Juggling work alongside family life has been an ongoing tussle. As well as Leila, who's now four, Nicole and her husband Jonathan, 43, a sales manager, have eight-year-old Ollie.'It is important that the business works around the family. When the children are in school or childcare I work - Leila spends three and a half days a week at pre-school - and the rest of the time I am there for them. I often send emails between two and six in the morning to keep up.' Leila and Ollie even pitch in on occasion. Leila modelled the early ranges of suits and Ollie helps counting out the stock - when he can put down a football for long enough.'It has been hard work, exhausting at times, but making something for other mothers that is really useful, and being able to make a living from it, has given me a huge sense of achievement.'When we are out shopping or getting food and Leila or Ollie spot a baby wearing a Zippy Bib they get almost as excited as me.'Mona Shah, 45, is founder of Harry Specters chocolates. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Shaz and their son Ash, 16.It was an unusual choice of name, but as Mona Shah's son had been the inspiration for the chocolate company, it seemed fitting that he should pick it.Harry Specters chocolates launched in November 2012, after Mona, 45, left her job in NHS corporate governance to make truffles. Her son Ash has autism, and she and her husband Shaz, 48, an engineer, had grown increasingly concerned about his job prospects on leaving school.Only 15 per cent of people in the UK of working age with autism are in full-time employment, according to the National Autistic Society. Mona, from Cambridge, felt sure Ash, who's now 16, would be an asset to the right company, so she set about creating that company herself.A holiday to Scotland and a trip to a chocolate shop when Ash was 11 had set the wheels in motion. 'I've always been obsessed with chocolate,' says Mona. 'Whenever I made desserts or cakes I'd always fill them with chocolate - but before then it hasn't dawned on me that I could make chocolates myself.'Mona went on a beginner's chocolatier course in Banbury with the idea of furthering a hobby. She bought moulds and a small tempering tank, for melting chocolate, and set to work. 'I made some with hazelnut, strawberry and Madagascan vanilla, and took them to my office; they said they were the best they'd ever had. I realised how formulaic, repetitive and methodical making chocolate is: all qualities suited to those with autism. I asked Ash if he wanted to dip some truffles in chocolate one day. He really enjoyed it, so I asked some of his friends to come over and have a go. They loved it, too.'Clearly on to something, Mona applied and was awarded a Â£4,000 start-up grant by her bank.Ash had always told Mona that when he grew up, he wanted to name a restaurant Harry Specters, so she asked if she could use it for the chocolate business. Of course, he agreed.Today, Harry Specters provides work experience opportunities for 40 young people with autism, involves 100 students with special needs in a package-design project and employs six part-time employees on the autistic spectrum. By 2017, Mona hopes they'll employ seven extra full-time autistic staff.'They leave feeling more confident in their abilities. The business really benefits from their ideas, too. They think more quickly, have more logical ways of doing things such as folding boxes and packaging and give better descriptions of chocolate flavours.'Last year, turnover was Â£110,000 and Mona has pledged 60p of every Â£1 profit to improving the business and its social aims of providing employment for those with autism.All the manufacturing takes place in the family's three-bedroom bungalow. 'We once had a month to produce 22,000 boxes of truffles - about six times our usual capacity.'I drafted in extra staff, their families and friends. It was madness. We didn't get more than four hours sleep for weeks but we made the deadline with 13 hours to spare.'Mona is currently looking for a factory space. Over the next 12 years, she hopes to have created jobs for 240 people on the autistic spectrum - that's the dream. But for now, one of her most pressing jobs is done. 'Ash's so confident now. He knows what he's going to do when he grows up.'Sarah Pittendrigh, 43, is the founder of Simply Bow & Chair Covers. She lives in Northumberland with her husband Stewart and their son William, 16.In August 2008, Sarah was at rock bottom. She was facing bankruptcy after losing her job as director of a corporate events company - a business into which she'd invested all her savings before it folded.As a single mother to William, then nine, with a large mortgage to pay, she needed to act - fast.'You can't imagine something like that could ever happen,' says Sarah. 'I'd never been unemployed in my life but then, suddenly, I was on income support.'I knew I couldn't cave in, and I needed to make sure my son had the future he deserved.'A mixture of luck and past experience in the events industry meant she spotted an opportunity.Many corporate events hire tie-on fabric covers to spruce up ordinary chairs. Sarah had always found companies wouldn't deliver enough, wouldn't fit them and there were only a few designs to chose from.She began building a business plan. 'I looked at London and Paris catwalk shows for inspiration and researched fabrics and new styles. Brand quality and service had to be paramount.'With no money in the bank, getting funding was tricky. Sarah successfully applied to Business Link, a (now defunct) government-funded business advice service, and was awarded a Â£3,000 grant. Coupled with a Â£3,000 loan from her parents, she paid for a website, an initial run of samples and, essentially, a van.In January 2009, when William was ten, Sarah started trading locally in the North-East of England, driving her van between hotels to pitch her product. 'My confidence was rock bottom. I asked my mother to come with me for support.'After the first year, Simply Bow & Chair Covers had regular orders from six hotels and turned over Â£79,000.'Trying to be a mother and keeping everything on the surface looking normal was hard. I was working 20-hour days, with my head in a computer, sourcing fabrics from the U.S. or China, but William never suffered. My parents were fantastic.'Orders flooded in from all over the country - too many to keep up with - so Sarah franchised the business in 2010.Now there are 11 offices from Aberdeen to Essex, the company caters for more than 1,000 weddings a year and the group is on course to turn over Â£500,000 this year.The cherry on the cake came in 2012 when Sarah remarried her ex-husband Stewart, 44, a property developer, who had been behind the scenes, despite their divorce years earlier, helping her throughout the company's launch and early days.'We had never really fallen out, just married too young. Now I can manage work around family life. It's amazing how things have turned out.'Helen Kirkham, 39, is the founder of Mrs Gleam's cleaning products. She lives in Norwich with her husband James and their four children.A glass of red wine spilt on a pale carpet would bring on palpitations in most homes, but not in Helen Kirkham's. 'My house has become a test lab,' says the mother-of-four from Norwich.'If something gets spilt I might leave it there for months to see if I can get the stain out.'Helen is the woman behind Mrs Gleam's: a range of cleaning products that can be used around children, are safe on the skin, work on all surfaces, are non-caustic and eco-friendly.While many products say they do one or more of these things, Helen couldn't find any that could do all four.'I was sick of oven cleaners burning my hands or safe products that were little more effective than coloured water,' she says. She searched the internet but couldn't find anything suitable.With four children at home under the age of 14, she took matters into her own hands not long after the birth of her youngest child, Finley, who's now four. She'd been made redundant from her job as sales manager for a mortgage provider - a development which sparked a conversation with her partner James, 37, an account manager, about her future.'James and I agreed that I should have four years to make the idea work, before Finley started school. After that, I would get a job again.'Her first task was finding the right chemical company and manufacturer to concoct a workable formula.'I got a D in GCSE chemistry and had to spend hours researching.'At the same time, her older children, Lauren, then 14, and Calvin, then 12, needed collecting from school, while two-year-old Charlotte and baby Finley were still at home.'I decided there were 24 hours in the day and I would make the best use of them possible. Sometimes I would do all-nighters, researching chemical formulas and other products.'Helen would try to find places around the house that she could retreat to, away from the children, to make important phone calls.'I'd hide on the floor between my bed and the window or at the bottom of the garden on a swing, but the children would always find me - they thought it was a game.'Mrs Gleam's began trading in February 2014 and has quickly grown to sell 14 products, covering every room in the house.The brand is stocked in Lakeland, the Co-Op, Ocado and Dunelm. Last month she sold 10,000 bottles. Last year's turnover was Â£198,000 and Helen predicts she'll see that figure hit Â£1 million by 2017.'The whole project has been self-funded, so I've had to keep our outlay as minimal as possible.'Last year, I asked Lauren and Calvin whether they'd prefer to go on a family holiday, or let me work on the business. They picked the business so we could go on a bigger and better trip another time. They understand how important this is.'Meanwhile, the balancing act continues: 'I still live by the mantra that there is 24 hours in a day and, if you use them wisely, anything is possible.'