Vivian Lee and Eunice Lim have been friends for more than 15 years, and they’re now also business partners to each other.
Propelled by challenges in their respective breastfeeding journey, the duo embarked on their first business venture together with Go!Mama, which is Singapore’s first lactation pod system.
“Like most people, after the birth of my daughter in 2019, I had to return to work and be out and about. Breastfeeding became really challenging then. It was so difficult to find a private space to express milk or breastfeed,” explained Vivian, co-founder of Go!Mama.
“At work, I mostly pumped in a storeroom that couldn’t be locked and was walked in multiple times by males colleagues. However, it was my only option besides the female bathroom, which was quite unhygienic. When I visited my clients in the hospitals, there were also (often) no dedicated facility for lactation purpose.”
Noting this gap, she decided to quit her job as a business development executive at a medical company in January 2021 and participate in a three-month NUS Venture Building programme by NUS Enterprise, — the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore — and supported by Enterprise SG (ESG), that aims to help aspiring entrepreneurs get their feet off the ground.
At the end of the programme, she received a S$50,000 Startup SG Founder grant from ESG and S$10,000 from NUS Enterprise as the Accredited Mentor Partner. Following this success, Eunice eventually joined Vivian full-time and the two officially launched Go!Mama in March 2021.
Besides the two government grants, Go!Mama has raised S$500,000 seed funding to date.
The co-founders spent the first few months focusing on product development, including conducting interviews with several breastfeeding mothers to better understand how to best design the lactation pods. They also worked with a local manufacturer to build a prototype, leveraging available makerspace at Republic Polytechnic.
What’s unique about these lactation pods?
The current solution (for breastfeeding in public) are nursing rooms typically located in places such as shopping malls, or progressive offices. However, the disadvantage of such facilities is that they are permanent, which means it could be a waste of resources should there be no nursing mothers using the rooms.– Vivian Lee, co-founder of Go!Mama
In contrast, Go!Mama’s lactation pods are free-standing, ready-built pods that are powered by smart technology. They provide mothers with a clean, private and safe environment to nurse their baby or express their breast milk.
There’s also a USB charger within the lactation pod, which allows users to recharge their electric breast pump for the next use.
Moreover, since the pods are designed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the founders made sure that their pods can be easily cleaned and disinfected. All interior fittings are non-upholstered so they can be simply wiped down, and a UV disinfection process is also triggered after every use to prevent cross-contamination of viruses or bacteria.
The pods also have plug-and-play specifications, allowing them to be installed at any location that has a power point for electricity. This is ideal for operators who are not able to build a lactation room within the location.
To use the lactation pods, users need to first download Go!Mama’s mobile app. The app allows them view a comprehensive list of all lactation spaces in Singapore, locate and navigate their way to the nearest pod, check its occupancy, and gain secure access to the pods.
Users need to provide a pin number to enter the lactation pods, which are only sent after their profile has been verified on Singpass. “This ensures that the pods are used by mothers in need to breastfeed their babies or express breastmilk, with reduced risk of abuse,” explains Vivian.
Starting up a business amid the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a host of challenges.
Since their business involves building a hardware product, they needed to partner with product developers and manufacturers, but the pandemic has restricted them from traveling abroad and explore working with overseas factories.
Meanwhile, Vivian noted that local factories are facing a shortage of material and manpower. Many facilities providers are also tightening their budgets, so a lactation facility may not be the top of their priorities.
Additionally, with more people working from home, offices are also less likely to require lactation pods though this is expected to change with more employees now returning to the workplace.
Go!Mama has a B2B model, where our customers — who will pay for the lactation pods to be installed — are typically facility managers and not our end users (the lactating mums). It’s quite difficult to really articulate the pain and challenges of a mum who has to breastfeed on-the-go to people who haven’t experienced this problem.
As many of our customers haven’t personally gone through the breastfeeding journey before, it’s not so easy for them to relate. This is something I’m still working on today, because I believe that the more they can understand the pain, the more they will see the need and value our solutions.– Vivian Lee, co-founder of Go!Mama
Moreover, as Go!Mama’s concept is the first-of-its-kind in Singapore, they also face challenge in aligning themselves to the existing regulations.
To facilitate this, they have worked with Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) Pro-Enterprise Panel under the First Mover Framework and New Idea Scheme, who has helped connect them with relevant government agencies to explore collaborations.
Following Sentosa trial, they’re eyeing deployment at MRT stations next
Go!Mama has since launched a six-month public trial at Sentosa in which they deployed five of their lactation pods across the island in December 2021. The mobility of the pods means that they can be moved easily to different locations, should one location have low traffic.
The trial is still ongoing, but Vivian said that “a good number of mums” have already used their pods and expressed their appreciation towards this initiative.
Some also voiced out that they wish to see the deployment of the pods beyond Sentosa. In line with this feedback, Go!Mama is in talks with other local attraction providers to implement their lactation pods and this month, it will also be trialling their pods in the JTC launchpad @ one-north.
“We are hoping that this will be the start to many more pods being deployed in work and factory settings to support mums at work,” said Vivian, adding that its key focus now is to work closely with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to deploy their pods at MRT stations next.
“Breastfeeding mums really need more support, and the community can do more to help,” urged Vivian.
“In Singapore, 99 per cent of mothers attempt breastfeeding because it’s optimal (for) infant health, growth and development. The reality is, mums can’t be home 24/7 and (be) attached to their babies.”
In fact, based on last year’s data from the Singapore Department of Statistics, more than half of the local workforce are made up of women.
Having to hunt for a private space every three hours — mums need to keep up with expressing (milk) and breastfeeding six to eight times a day to maintain supply — is really stressful for mums. They are already juggling so much — work, a new baby, lack of sleeps, (running) errands and more.
Go!Mama wants to redefine the experience of mums who are breastfeeding on the go. We also want to build a new network of lactation facilities fast, and (our) pods can help achieve that.– Vivian Lee, co-founder of Go!Mama
Moving forward, Go!Mama is looking to explore new features in its lactation pods, including air-conditioning for greater comfort as well as the incorporation of solar panels to tap on sustainable energy so that their pods can become a truly free-standing unit.
In the year ahead, they also plan to trial more Go!Mama lactation pods at different locations around Singapore.
Featured Image Credit: Go!Mama