Join us this year as we explore unique products and incredible sights that make Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and Michigan an incredible place to live.
Meet Amber Kroeker, a working mama of three and the creator of Pip and Grow, the company that makes Smitten, an infant bassinet sleep box developed in Ann Arbor. While Kroeker worked as a pediatric injury prevention health educator at the University of Michigan, she was perplexed by the number of infant deaths related to unsafe sleeping quarters. To understand why this was happening, Kroeker started conducting research with other safe sleep experts, and they found that parents were choosing convenient places for their infants to sleep versus cribs or other safe sleep spaces.
Inspired by the Finnish sleep box tradition, Kroeker developed the Smitten Sleep System an easily transportable infant sleep space out of a cardboard box with a fitted mattress. Ann Arbor Family talked with Amber Kroeker about her passion for this product that all started right here in Washtenaw County.
What role did the University of Michigan play in the development of Smitten?
I was awarded a grant from the University of Michigan that was called the “Fostering Innovation Grant” that helped fund the project and develop the prototype, and I partnered with the Michigan State University (rivals partnered in doing good) School of Packaging to help design the prototype.
While in Ann Arbor, I built a network of amazing women, many of whom were affiliated with the University of Michigan. We call ourselves the Lovely Ladies Club or Sparkles. Every year, the Sparkles reunite somewhere in the country. Last September, I was telling the women about my rough prototype and the struggles I was having getting the project off the ground. They immediately wanted to help. Fast forward one year and two of the ladies are my business partners and the others are on our advisory committee. It is amazing what can be accomplished when you have a village around you!
What aspects of Michigan are unique to the culture that may have helped support the creation of your product?
Living in Ann Arbor, I experienced a small town feel with many opportunities. I watched so many people in the community and other Michigan cities, like Detroit, working to do great things that were impactful throughout the world. Being a part of the Michigan culture gave me the confidence to believe in my product.
Pip and Grow is committed to manufacturing Smitten in the
United States. Where is the product made and why was this location chosen as the production site?
The Smitten boxes are made at Landaal Packaging in Flint. It was important to me to find a manufacturer that treated their employees really well and the employees at Landall are being paid a living wage with benefits. We also chose to hire the Detroit Garment Group that was founded by Karen Bushemi. It is a great company that is an exciting example of the reintegration of Detroit.
What gave you the drive to keep going?
I could not have done it without the support of my village and by being brave. I am so grateful for everyone that has been incredibly supportive, for Ann Arbor, and for the University of Michigan for helping my idea become a reality.