Melanie Barrett, Wittenberg class of 2021, continues to “hustle” to honor her big sister Bailey through an entrepreneurial idea that has received much attention of late.
Barrett, a double major in voice performance and business management from Vandalia, Ohio, introduced Bailey’s Capes at Wittenberg’s first-ever Tiger Tank event in 2018. She then took the idea to ABC’s Shark Tank in 2019 where she advanced to the second round, and most recently she presented at the Springfield Hustles competition, placing among the top four.
According to the Springfield Hustles website, the event is part of a community-wide effort to make the city a more vibrant and prosperous place to live, work, and raise a family, and was conceived as a way to encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to take a chance on themselves. The Shark Tank-style competition is a result of the Springfield-area business community banding together. The best eight business plans were selected for Springfield Hustles, with plan owners pitching their ideas to a panel of judges at the Nov. 6 event at the John Legend Theater in Springfield, which included a grand award worth $76,350 in prizes. Founders hope to make this an annual competition.
“My presentation time was a total of nine minutes,” said Barrett, who recently helped emcee at Wittenberg’s 2020 Tiger Tank. “I was able to decide how much of that nine minutes was my presentation and how much time I left for a Q & A session. My presentation ended up taking about four minutes, and I am lucky that it did, because there were many great questions that the three judges were able to ask me.”
Judges on the Springfield Hustles panel included Jason Duff, founder of Small Nation; Lauren Tiffan, currently creating and managing small business innovation programming with Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), and Matthew Davis, co-founder and CEO of COhatch.
Barrett learned about the competition through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Springfield.
“The SBDC helped me with every question I had,” she said. “Apart from that, many Springfield residents messaged me and said ‘I thought of you when I saw this.’ It means so much that people think of Bailey Bug when they think of Springfield. To enter the competition, I had to create a business plan in the competition’s format. The Springfield SBDC helped me with this, and from this competition, I now have a much more polished business plan that I am proud of. And while I worked mainly with the SBDC, the Wittenberg business department staff is always so incredibly helpful. I set up multiple meetings with professors to gain their expertise, and they are always so ready to help me anytime I need it.”
PIPE Ag, a Springfield-based farming technology business claimed the top prize in the competition. However, Bailey Bug was a finalist out of 133 submissions.
“Being a finalist is a huge accomplishment,” said Barrett, a member of Wittenberg’s choir and the Color Guard Club. “(Scott) Muddy Watters, as well as Heath Queen, and other Wittenberg alumni and friends came to the competition to support me. We have an amazing Wittenberg family, and I am thankful to have such great mentors. Professors that I would like to recognize as helping me through the entire process are Mark Egloff (visiting instructor in business), Sunny Jeong (assistant professor of business), and Kevin Steidel (Ness Chair in Entrepreneurship and assistant professor of practice in the business department). They are incredibly knowledgeable, helpful, and kind. They are professors that I admire greatly and continue to constantly learn from.”
By finishing in the top four in the Springfield Hustles event, Barrett and Bailey Bug earn a free three-month residency at COhatch, which will open a location in Springfield in 2020. COhatch is a community town hall where individuals, start-ups, small businesses, large corporations, and non-profits thrive together in the communities in which they live and love. Designed to be a place to work, meet, and live, the COHatch vision is to replicate a "whole-life" approach to hundreds of local communities, impacting the world one person and community at a time according to its website.
Barrett’s specially designed capes fit around a wheelchair to keep occupants warm and comfortable. She decided to pursue this business in honor of her sister Bailey, who was born with Lennox-Gestaut Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that confined her to a wheelchair and took her life at the young age of 20 on Feb. 23, 2017. Melanie knew her sister’s story couldn’t end there.
She first presented her idea to Wittenberg’s Tiger Tank and won a paid internship at D-Terra Solutions in Columbus through Watters, an ’87 alumnus and member of the Wittenberg Board of Directors. D-Terra helped her find a manufacturer and an official prototype was made.
Watters then helped Barrett to build her company and product through even more Wittenberg connections after making a presentation to 80 members of the Springfield Rotary Club where a member of The Abilities Connection (TAC) was present. Upon learning more, TAC agreed to be Bailey Bug’s production company, and this past summer all manufacturing of the product was moved to Springfield.
“Not only do we add to the community with our warmth, style, and safety, but now we get to be a part of providing jobs to people with disabilities as well. Since moving, we have collected more fun fabrics, seen the growth of the company and give back to Springfield,” Barrett said.
For more information on her and her products, check out https://www.baileybug.org/contact.html, Baileybug.org and Bailey Bug LLC.
You can also read more about Barrett in the latest Wittenberg Magazine at https://bit.ly/2vJTZ42.