Baltimore Sun - Mifold portable booster seat could simplify carpooling, parenting


Mifold portable booster seat could simplify carpooling, parenting

The next big thing in parenting may be a smaller thing. The mifold "Grab-and-go" booster seat is ten times smaller than a backless booster seat, can fit in a backpack, glove box or pocket, and is dishwasher safe.

"Boosters are not particularly big, but they're too big to have available at any time," said Jon Sumroy, a father of four and CEO and creator of mifold.

The collapsible, stowable seat is less a booster than a seat belt adjuster. Booster seats lift up children to be in the position of adults, whereas mifold brings the seat belt down to fit the seating position of a child. The seat belt fits between two adjustable clasps on either side of the seat pad.

"Instead of having a lap belt across the stomach, which is dangerous, mifold straps the belt across the hip joints," Sumroy explained.

A strap from the back of the seat connects to a shoulder strap clasp that ensures the seat belt never crosses the child's neck, and prevents sliding under it should the child slouch off to sleep. It's made for children 4 to 12 years old, or more accurately for children 40 pounds to 120 pounds. Adults would likely have to help smaller children strap in, since there are four connecting points including the car's built-in seat belt locking device.

The only problem with mifold is it hasn't been manufactured yet. The promotional blitz that started today is to feed an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that will give Sumroy and his startup greater clarity on first production run levels and to educate the public through newsletters and social media on what could be the most innovative development in car seats in decades.

"We will be successful with or without the crowdfunding," Sumroy said, citing two rounds of private investment that have raised $1.8 million and the prototype development by industrial and material engineers. The crowdfunding campaign is more of an assurance of what to expect.

Assurances are key to mifold.

"Safety is the No. 1 priority," Sumroy said.

Mifold has crash-tested prototypes at UTAC in France and the Transport Research Laboratory in the U.K., both of which are independent bodies testing and helping regulate automotive safety policy in the European Union, akin to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the U.S. It was also tested by Calspan Corp. in Buffalo, N.Y.

Federal regulations in the U.S., EU, and U.K. require that testing is done on manufacturing samples, which is why Sumroy had mifold first tested at independent testing facilities.

"The testing helped us know that we could get federal approval before we started manufacturing," Sumroy explained, adding that manufacturing will begin by the end of the year, with deliveries expected for the first quarter of 2016. "We see no reason why the prototype testing won't be replicated in the product. If they don't meet it, we will keep testing until it meets the standard. We won't ship any product until it meets the safety standard."

It's undergone development for three years, though it's been gestating since the year 2000, when Sumroy set off on a six-month Griswaldian cross-country adventure from New Jersey in a 35-foot RV with his wife and three young sons. Settling in California with a new daughter, the digital mentor and his family expanded their carpooling life, finding themselves without enough room for boosters for other kids.

"Other days, when someone else was doing the driving, then my kids didn't have boosters. And when we lived out East, there were the taxis," Sumroy said, adding that safe seating would often get superseded by convenience.

The 48-year-old Sumroy, who is from Leeds, England, but currently lives in Israel, had a video-uploading startup business that predated YouTube but didn't last. He spent his career as a marketing executive and consultant for multinationals such as Unilever and Johnson & Johnson. The idea gestated, the kids outgrew boosters and life led him back to his idea.

"I did the classic entrepreneurship move and made a prototype in my garage out of canvas and carabiners," Sumroy says with a laugh. But the market was there. "If half of the people aren't using booster seats, and it's a law to have it, then there might be a business behind it."

The original prototype proved effective enough for Sumroy to hire industrial engineers to work on design, safety and comfort.

It is expected to retail at $39.99 in the U.S., though crowdfunders will get a discount. "We want people to feel there is a real benefit by helping at this stage."

Editor's note: We did not test the product.

Twitter @DufferRobert