WINDHAM — A local woman who started a small business in her garage two years ago will compete this week in a national Pitch to Win challenge.
Dahlia Rizk founded Buckle Me Baby Coats in 2017, and has since manufactured up to 30,000 car-seat friendly coats for children.
“I am almost sold out,” Rizk said on Tuesday, adding the business was intended to be a fun side hobby.
With three children of her own and her mental health counselor duties, and as one of the founders of Choices Counseling of Londonderry, Rizk said she never anticipated starting another business. Now, Buckle Me Baby Coats are available on her company website, Amazon and Buy Buy Baby stores. Zulily will be selling the products this week.
After hearing about a Pitch to Win contest hosted by Nationwide and BlueVine, Rizk entered her business into the competition, which received more than 3,000 proposals. Buckle Me Baby Coats was selected as one of seven finalists.
She will travel to Ohio on Wednesday to participate in a final pitch round on Thursday. The winners will be announced later that day, with a panel of experts choosing three top winners. The prizes are $100,000 for the top spot, $20,000 for second place and $10,000 for third place.
“I am self-funded, so I will take any opportunity for funding,” Rizk said. “Of course I am nervous. That is a lot of money that could make a lot of coats.”
Rizk said there is a demand for car-seat friendly coats, explaining puffy winter coats can compress by as many as 4 inches, leaving a large gap between the car seat straps and a child’s chest, which can result in brain, neck or spine injuries in the event of an accident. As it isn’t convenient to put on and take off a child’s coat during daily car trips, she invented Buckle Me Baby Coats to avoid the struggle and still keep the child safe.
The back material of the Buckle Me Baby Coats is thinner than the front material.
The coats have a zipper on the side. When unzipped, the front part of the coat can be flipped over to the opposite side, allowing for the seat belt to be buckled over the child’s chest without any coat material between the buckle and the child. Then the front part of the coat can be pulled back over the buckle and the zipper can be zipped back up.
“It is as close as you can get to not wearing a coat,” Rizk said.
The coats adhere to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on safe winter car-seat use, and cost between $60 to $130. Sizing is available for children ages 6 months to 12 years.
“It is really cool when you pour all of your effort into something, and there is nothing better than to see that people are loving it. People tell me it is a lifesaver,” Rizk said.
Rizk’s business is competing against CurlMix, ActivArmor, Boolean Girl Tech, Cloud 9 Griptape, Sonavi Labs and TITAN Mixer Bottle in the Pitch to Win challenge.
“All of the Pitch to Win finalists have demonstrated their industry expertise, commitment to growing their businesses and the unique market needs they are serving,” Tony Fenton, vice president of underwriting, product and new product development at Nationwide, said in a statement. “We look forward to helping them take the next step with this contest, and to partnering with BlueVine to continue supporting America’s small businesses.”
“Even if I don’t win, I can still walk away with a connection to Nationwide, which is a perfect match because they are also in the automobile industry and they have a bigger voice than I do. Either way, I will walk away a winner,” she said.