Baby On Board: Martha Switzer Walked Into A Nike+ Accelerator with Her Newborn, and Walked Out With New Business
Illustration: Theo Lamar
Martha Switzer is the co-founder of Sprout, a digital platform that makes wellbeing more accessible to the workforce.
Motherhood and entrepreneurship is a balancing act without a lot of balance. You are consistently being pulled in multiple directions and juggling too many balls at the same time. There’s added pressure because you want to do both jobs well.
Being a mother, entrepreneur, wife, and friend isn’t easy but, truthfully, I thrive in the chaos. In 2013, when my co-founder Christina and I launched Sprout, one of the first things we did was go out and raise money. Trying to raise money is challenging, (only 2.2% of venture capital goes to female-led businesses), but it’s even more difficult when you have a newborn.
The same year we launched Sprout, we were accepted into the Nike+ Accelerator powered by Techstars, an opportunity that launched us into our growth phase. The experience was inspiring as we learned from the best people at Nike and Techstars. On top of all the meetings, most nights we would have to practice our pitch in preparation for our big Demo Day at the Tiger Woods stadium in front of a crowd of over a thousand people, which included VC’s, angel investors, and top executives. My daughter was always there with me.
At that time, my daughter Blake was only eight-weeks-old. I had a responsibility to both of my newborns — my daughter and my business. It was by far the hardest balancing act I’ve ever had to do.
I made a decision to bring my daughter with me to the accelerator program.
I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be and if it would work, but I also knew that missing this opportunity with Nike wasn’t an option. So, I strapped my daughter into my BabyBjorn and walked into my meetings and programs with confidence.
It was that same confidence that I took with me as I walked into boardrooms to pitch to investors, who were usually a combination of angel investors, large-scale VCs, and C-Suite execs at top companies. Typically there were more men than women in the room, and all had different opinions on where we should take our business. I think it threw a few investors off seeing two women in a room, one with a baby strapped to her chest. I’m sure they were thinking, “How committed is she really with a new baby? How serious is she?” These are the challenging assumptions we have to face as women, but putting a baby in their face reminded them that I was both a mother and a business owner — a multi-hyphenate with demanding priorities.
What I quickly learned was what set me apart. It showed how capable and willing I was to make it work. Plus, it made the meeting that much more memorable. Was it easy? No. As newborns do, Blake would sleep for most of the day or cry when she was hungry. When it was time to take care of the baby, I did just that. She liked being in the carrier close to me and if she would get too fussy, I would suggest a “walking meeting”. The more investor meetings I had, the more confident I became.
In the end, not only did she come to the investor meetings with me, she participated in the three-month accelerator program. In the first few weeks, I think she attended 100+ meetings with me! Coming out of the accelerator we raised our first official round of funding and also landed a few big clients. That experience was the springboard for how I operated as a mom and an entrepreneur. At Sprout, we have a judgment-free zone and one fun policy — bring your baby to work!
My company is about promoting wellness in the workplace as more and more companies realize that wellness and mental health programs are no longer a “nice to have,” but a “necessary to have.” We’ve seen incredible growth & success not only internally as a company that is shedding its startup layer (we’ve been in business for seven years!)
The key for me has been personal time and plenty of self-care to make sure I am performing at my absolute best. Taking personal time ensures I am a better mom, too. At work, I have become very good at time management, learning how to do things quickly, and getting comfortable with delegating. I now have three kids and I hope I’m setting a good example for them. I know that Blake has had an extra little skip in her step from that experience.