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Chapter 5 The Challenges of Starting a Business

Build a Better Baby and They Will Come

One balmy San Diego evening in 1993, Mary and Rick Jurmain were watching a TV program about teenage pregnancy.This vignette is based on the following sources: Realityworks Inc., “About Us,” Realityworks, http://www.realityworks.com/aboutus.html (accessed October 4, 2008); Realityworks Inc., “RealCare Baby,” Realityworks (2008), http://www.realityworks.com/realcare/realcarebaby.html (accessed October 4, 2008); “Realityworks Infant Simulator and RealCare Parenting Program,” Horizons Solutions Site (August 17, 2007), http://www.solutions-site.org/artman/publish/article_47.shtml (accessed October 4, 2008); Brenda Bredahl, “Bringing Up Baby,” BNET.com, Corporate Report Wisconsin, January 2004, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa5426/is_/ai_n21343525 (accessed October 7, 2008); “Have a Baby? I Think I’ll Think It Over,” Horizons Solutions Site (1998), http://www.solutions-site.org/kids/stories/KScat3_sol72.htm (accessed October 4, 2008); “‘Baby’ Helps Teens Think It Over!” Education World, May 25, 1998, http://www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr077.shtml (accessed October 6, 2008); Kate Stone Lombardi, “Doll Gives a Taste of Real Life,” New York Times, May 24, 1998, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res= 9B05E3DC1231F930A3575BC0A962958260 (accessed October 6, 2008); J. F. L., MD, “Dolls from Hell,” Pediatrics 97, no. 3 (March 1996), http://pediatrics.aapublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/97/3/317 (accessed October 6, 2008); Deborah L. Cohen, “Bringing Up Baby,” Education Week, November 16, 1994, http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/1994/11/16/11baby.h14.html (accessed October 6, 2008); “This Doll Tells the Young to Hold Off,” New York Times, August 3, 1994, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res= 9B05E3DC1231F930A3575BC0A962958260 (accessed October 6, 2008). To simulate the challenge of caring for an infant, teens on the program were assigned to tend baby-size sacks of flour. Rick, a father of two young children, remarked that trundling around a sack of flour wasn’t exactly a true-to-life experience. In particular, he argued, sacks of flour simulated only abnormally happy babies—babies who didn’t cry, especially in the middle of the night. Half-seriously, Mary suggested that her husband—a between-jobs aerospace engineer—build a better baby, and within a couple of weeks, a prototype was born. Rick’s brainchild was a bouncing 6.5-pound bundle of vinyl-covered joy with an internal computer to simulate infant crying at realistic, random intervals. He also designed a drug-affected model to simulate tremors from withdrawal, and each model monitored itself for neglect or ill treatment.

The Jurmains patented Baby Think It Over (aka BTIO) and started production in 1994 as Baby Think It Over Inc. Their first “factory” was their garage, and the “office” was the kitchen table—“a little business in a house,” as Mary put it. With a boost from articles in USA Today, Newsweek, Forbes, and People—plus a “Product of the Year” nod from Fortune—news of the Jurmains’ “infant simulator” eventually spread to the new company’s targeted education market, and by 1998, some forty thousand simulators had been babysat by more than a million teenagers in nine countries. By that time, the company had moved to Wisconsin, where it had been rechristened BTIO Educational Products Inc. to reflect an expanded product line that now includes not only dolls and equipment, like the Shaken Baby Syndrome Simulator, but also simulator-based programs like ySTART Addiction Education and Realityworks Pregnancy Profile. BTIO was retired and replaced by the new and improved RealCare Baby and, ultimately, by RealCare Baby II–plus, which requires the participant to determine what the “baby” needs when it cries and downloads data to record mishaps (such as missed-care events) and misconduct (like baby shaking). If RealCare Baby II–plus shows signs of fatigue, you can plug him or her into the nearest wall outlet. In 2003, the name of the Jurmains’ company was changed once again, this time to Realityworks Inc. The change, explains the company Web site, reflects its decision “to focus on what the company does best—providing realistic learning experiences.”

Video Interview

The Jurmains

(click to see video)

Mary and Rick discuss the origins of Realityworks Inc.