Singapore company makes breastfeeding easier for mothers worldwide
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Singapore company makes breastfeeding easier for mothers worldwide

Profile shot of business lady

Yvon Bock’s personal struggle with breastfeeding motivated her to start Hegen, a line of baby feeding products backed by intensive research, to simplify the nursing process.

The moment when she became a mother for the first time is one that Yvon Bock will cherish for life. The same, however, cannot be said of her first breast-feeding experience.

She had to juggle among 10 separate baby feeding products just to express her breast milk, and store it.

“I found it a huge struggle when I was working in the banking sector. I couldn’t find the time to express my breast milk while at work, and even if I could do so, there were too many products involved just to express and store, making the process very time-consuming,” said the 39-year-old.

Even after she quit her job and started working at her father’s plastic contract manufacturing firm Fitson Singapore, this difficulty persisted when she breastfed her next two children. When she had her fourth child, something in her clicked. She decided enough was enough.

She was determined to come up with a whole new line of breastfeeding products to help mothers overcome the challenges. In 2015, she founded Hegen, a line of baby feeding products with a patented bottle design.

The name Hegen comes from a part of an old German idiom Hegen und pflegen, which translates to "what you hunt you must farm, what you eat you must crop". It essentially means to cherish, which she found apt as the goal of her business is to cherish the next generation.

On her product, Yvon said: “One look at the Hegen bottle and you will see a stark difference between it and other baby bottles in the market.”

The bottles are soft and square-shaped, which make them easy to store and ensure they do not roll away when dropped. They also come with interchangeable feeding and storage bottle lids which can prevent wastage and contamination that may occur when milk is transferred between bottles. The best part is, the lids can be opened and closed using just one hand.

Crossing borders

Today, Hegen baby feeding products have made their mark internationally. They are sold in Singapore and 13 other markets including the United States, Britain and South Korea.

Going international is on her mind and that of her husband’s, Leon, who helps her to run the business. Their goal: 35 markets by 2020.

Mothers in all parts of the world experience similar problems when feeding their child, and many of those who live in developed countries forgo breastfeeding completely, noted Yvon.

“These women opt for formula milk instead of breast milk for a myriad of reasons including busy schedules and inconvenient work situations,” she said.

“As a brand, we want to correct this problem as we believe breast milk is nature’s best gift to mothers and babies.”

Hegen first went international after it was launched in Amazon Exclusives in the United States in 2015. Going global, she shared, is a learning process that never stops.

At the start, Yvon went on numerous business matching sessions and trade missions to suss out opportunities overseas. She had to do multiple surveys to figure out the best route to entering a market.

Up against established global brands, which have been in the market for decades, she had to fight hard to get eyeballs.

“We coupled our product launches with marketing strategies to help get word out about our brand in the beginning phases, giving us an edge against the competition,” she said.

Hegen’s bottles have certainty won the hearts of many mothers.

Mother-of-one Sharon Tan said the bottle’s design is the best she has come across in the 16 years she has worked as an infant care teacher. “It's so easy to use and you don't have to wash it with brushes,” she said.

Eileen Cheong, a mother of two, said her kids, who have outgrown the bottles, now use them as cups or containers to store their snacks.

“I also use it to store and freeze stock soup. It’s a very versatile product,” she added.

Bouncing back from setback

The most painful part of the venture overseas has been the costly and time-consuming process of ensuring the company’s intellectual property (IP) is protected in each market.

IP protection remains one of the company’s biggest challenges due to the perennial problem of others potentially imitating their products, which the company encountered even before its products were even officially launched.

Hegen was, in fact, late to launch.

That’s because the original bottle design Yvon had in mind was copied. The concept had somehow slipped into the market.

This came to light when Yvon saw her bottle design showcased by a major brand during a trade show.

“We were upset, of course, and very disappointed, but it was a blessing in disguise,” she said. “It forced us to step out of our comfort zone and come up with this patented concept, which forms the cornerstone of Hegen today.”

The final design was finalised after four years and over 200 prototypes.

Today, business is booming for Hegen.

The couple has pumped in close to $5 million into the business, which went into things like intellectual property registration, product development and machinery.

After three years, the company is expected to break even this year. Its turnover has increased by four times since its launch. This year’s revenue is also expected to be four times that of last year’s.

The team behind the brand has also grown. From just two people, it is now operated by a team of 10.

Stay positive and think global

Yvon’s advice to small and medium-sized enterprises is to stay positive, as the entrepreneurial journey is a humbling one with countless hurdles.

It is also important to accept change as a constant and to stay focused, she said.

“I believe being focused actually enhances your productivity – allowing you to accomplish more within a given time,” she said.

Every start-up should also have a vision of going global.

“It is important to think beyond borders and create products and services that can help make a difference to as many people as possible, wherever they are in the world, she said.

“I have a motto: persevere despite the odds.”

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