Saturday 24 June 2017

From first steps to walking tall

CogniKids creator Ollwyn Moran's host of innovative and revolutionary developmental products for children are gaining global attention

Developmental therapist Ollwyn Moran’s experience of parenting inspired her to set up CogniKids, which has brought three products to the market. Photo: David Conachy
Developmental therapist Ollwyn Moran’s experience of parenting inspired her to set up CogniKids, which has brought three products to the market. Photo: David Conachy
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

Cognikids is the brainchild of Ollwyn Moran, a former teacher, developmental therapist and mother of two, whose lightning bolt moment has inspired a variety of unique and innovative products to aid the early stages of child development.

"I was a secondary school teacher for years. I taught science, senior biology and maths and I loved every minute of it, but when I started I was given some weaker classes and I felt that doing my Hdip hadn't prepared me enough for," Ollwyn says.

"I went and trained for two years in the Institute of Neuro Physiological Psychology in Chester (INPP)."

Ollwyn qualified as a neurological developmental therapist and began her own practice at the weekends, while still teaching.

"Biology of the brain has always been my obsession and I became fascinated by early brain development, long before I had any babies of my own," Ollwyn says.

"My pivotal moment was when I was training in INPP and the lecturer was telling us about how much crawling is a key developmental milestone and how it can be often be overlooked by the walking milestone. "She also noted her fears for the new generation because the trend of getting rid of carpets and putting down wooden and tiled floors. I remember I was sitting beside a guy called Aidan and I nudged him and jokingly said that they should make clothes for them with grips on the legs."

A decade later, Ollwyn is at the helm of Irish company CogniKids, which has already brought three revolutionary products to the market; the Easy Grip Crawl Suit to help with early movement, which was selected as one of the top five products for safety by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association in the USA, Germany and UK last year, the Grip - a universal baby bottle holder that supports fine and gross motor skills - and Sooth, a sensory teething bib made from organic anti-bacterial bamboo fabric, which helps to minimise the effects of teething rashes.

But while the foundation for Ollwyn's success to date no doubt came from her educational and neurological expertise, it was her subsequent experience of motherhood, which proved the strongest catalyst for CogniKids.

In 2005 Ollwyn had her first child, Matthew and in 2006, her second, Alex was born.

"My first little man was seven-and-a-half weeks pre-term," Ollwyn explains. "You often hear that a little bit of knowledge can be a bad thing and that was true for me.

"I knew that premature babies are at a higher risk of neurological delay, learning or behavioural challenge, so I wanted to try and help him as much as I could once he came home and started going through his milestones.

"It wasn't until I saw him trying to crawl on the tiled floor in my kitchen, with his legs sliding down and he was bumping his little face that I had what Oprah calls my 'Aha moment.' I suddenly realised how difficult it was for these little ones; they are trying to get to grips with gravity and it is quite difficult. So we need to keep up with the pace of our changing home environments and pay attention to what they need."

Ollwyn spent the following months helping Matthew to crawl on the only carpeted area in her house, the landing at the top of the staircase, until his muscles were developed enough to take on the more difficult surfaces.

"That was really when I started thinking about something to help babies crawl and I began looking around, but there wasn't anything on the market. I was looking for some clothes with grips on the legs and there were none, so I ended up making them myself," Ollwyn explains.

A short time later Ollwyn returned to college to study for her Master's in Education.

"There was a student entrepreneur competition on and the prize fund was €6,000. I needed a new couch and wanted to bring the kids on a holiday, so I thought it sounded great," Ollwyn says.

"To enter we had to write a business plan and present it. I ended up winning, but they made it a condition that the prize money had to be spent on starting the business, so I still have the same couch."

And so CogniKids was officially born in 2012.

"I just started reaching out to people and see if anyone was interested in buying it," Ollwyn says.

"I was talking to a friend of my brothers and I knew that they ran their own clothing company, but it was women's clothes. He was amazing. He showed me how to measure fabric and what it meant when someone was talking about a certain measurement.

"He knew a guy out in China and the guy was actually from Lucan and was home for a couple of weeks so we had a coffee together and that is how I got a manufacturer.

"So I bought stuff first and it was sitting between my front room and my parents front room," Ollywn adds. "I had that small shipment, not realising then of course that you should get the order first and then have it made. The beauty, in one way, of not having a clue what you are doing is that you do things like that."

However, Ollwyn's confident approach soon garnered some very positive feedback. Mothercare was the first to come onboard and now stocks CogniKids' products nationwide while others like Llyod's, Maher's and McCabe's pharmacies soon followed.

"We want to be the Apple of the baby world, so we want to focus on design, but we very much have functionality and development to the fore," Ollwyn says.

"For example, our sensory teething bib is made from bamboo so it is thermo-regulating, so if baby feels warm it has a cooling effect and if cold if has warming effect," Ollywn says. "And Grip helps develop the pincer grip."

Ollwyn has completed a number of courses in order to boost her business acumen over the last few years, including the Propellor Venture Accelerator programme at DCU's Ryan Academy and New Frontiers, Enterprise Ireland's national entrepreneur development programme for innovative, early-stage start-ups.

CogniKids is currently in the final stages of talks with a number of large retailers in the United States and Ollwyn plans to launch into the US market in mid 2017.

By the end of this month Cognikids expects to have signed distribution agreements with at least five new territories

"It is a very exciting time for us," Ollwyn adds. "We are passionate about promoting the creation of healthy body and brain connections."

https://cognikids.com/

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