TRAVERSE CITY, Mich—Silikids Inc. is a Traverse City company that moved there from Los Angeles in 2012 because its Co-founder and CEO, Stacey Feeley, wanted a better quality of life for her kids. Her husband's parents had a place in Glen Arbor and she was smitten with the area's lakes, beaches and forests.
Now, she hopes to move its manufacturing there, too. From China.
Silikids makes sippy cups, eating utensils, straws and other food-related items for kids out of silicone, a benign product believed to have none of the health worries related to various plastics.
Feeley said the company is on a growth trajectory that she hopes over the next few years will eventually allow her to use U.S. manufacturers in northern Michigan. She said the company will double revenue this year to about $1 million and with an expanded product line being introduced in March should more than double revenue next year.
The expanded line will include items for adults, such as coffee mugs, tableware and storage bowls.
"If you're not producing in the millions of units, manufacturers here say, 'Go to China.' They won't even quote the product," she said. "But that's what we want to do, get big enough to bring manufacturing here. We don't need a lot of complicated equipment, we just need a waffle press."
Feeley is a native of Texas. After graduating from the University of Colorado, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career and was there 15 years before moving to Michigan. She got parts in public service announcements and had roles in several movies that never landed distributors, but found out her true calling was as an entrepreneur.
In 2007, she and a partner, Giuliana Schwab, founded Silikids.
She'd recently given birth to the first of her three daughters and hated using the readily available plastic implements made for kids. "They were just horrible. Plastics leech into baby bottles and cups. There had to be something better."
That something was silicone, an inert polymer made up of repeating units of siloxane, which is a chain of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms.
The timing of Silikids' launch was fortuitous. The next year, Canada banned bisphenol A, a polymer known as BPA and commonly used in cups, coffee mugs and water bottles.
"That put us on the map," said Feeley.
Bans in other countries soon followed. In 2013, the U.S. banned BPA in infant formula packaging.
The ban in Canada may have put Feeley on the map, but the Great Recession was hitting at the same time, which made it difficult to raise money and expand the company.
In 2012, Feeley moved the company to northern Michigan. "We needed to get out of Los Angeles. I wanted a different life for my kids," she said. Schwab remained in California, where she is Silikids' chief creative officer.
Soon after the move, Feeley met with the Northern Michigan Angels, which had just been formed.
In 2013, Feeley raised a funding round of $400,000, led by Start Garden of Grand Rapids and joined by the Northern Michigan Angels and the Blue Water Angelsof Midland.
Lee Gardner, a board member with the Northern Michigan Angels, said the group was drawn to Silikids because it has a focus on northern Michigan companies, and was impressed by Feeley and "the creative design and affordable prices" of her product line.
"Stacey is determined, persistent, realistic and carries a very positive attitude regardless of startup challenges," he said.
With that funding, Feeley was able to ramp up production and marketing.
She said she will begin raising a funding round of at least $1 million late this year to further boost production and marketing.
Originally, Feeley sold its brightly colored items in small boutique stores. Today, Silikids products are sold at Meijer and Babies 'R' Us locations throughout the U.S. and at retailers in the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Sweden, Chile, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
The company's product line is diverse and its prices vary. A sippy cup retails for $8.95, while a spoon that doubles as a pacifier sells for $9.95, a pack of six reusable straws sell for $6.95 a big goes for $11.95.
Products even include a capability that seems miraculous to anyone who has ever put something made of metal in a microwave. Silikids' cups have stainless steel rings at the top to give them some rigidity. The rings are coated in silicone. Silikids has been awarded 10 patents; one is for the chemistry behind the silicone-coated ring that allows the metal to be microwaved without any ill effect.
Silikids has four employees, but its benefit to the Traverse City area goes beyond those modest employment numbers.
The company is headquartered in downtown Traverse City but does its warehousing, packaging and order fulfillment south of town at Grand Traverse Industries, using its employees. GTI is a nonprofit that provides jobs for the handicapped.