Sometimes it’s all about connections and getting the word out. So, when Melanie Barrett, Wittenberg class of 2021, wanted a way to honor her big sister Bailey, she found a way through the University and its alumni connections to do so. Thanks to those connections, Barrett’s entrepreneurial idea may one day be featured on ABC’s Shark Tank.
Barrett, a double major in voice performance and business management from Vandalia, Ohio, introduced her entrepreneurial idea, Bailey’s Capes, at Wittenberg’s first-ever Tiger Tank event in 2018. The event, hosted by the department of business, is Wittenberg’s version of the popular Shark Tank program and features alumni judges. Barrett presented her specially designed cape, which fits around a wheelchair to keep occupants warm and comfortable, to Wittenberg’s judges and ended up winning the competition.
One of the judges, Wittenberg Board member Scott “Muddy” Watters ’87, owner and president of Flippin Water LLC, loved her idea and helped her set the groundwork for her new company, Bailey Bug LLC. He also introduced her to the opportunity of auditioning for Shark Tank.
“Shark Tank is a dream of mine, and just like every step of this journey, I still feel like I need to pinch myself sometimes to know that it is real,” said Barrett, a member of Wittenberg’s choir and the Color Guard Club. “Shark Tank would allow me a platform to not only have expert advice to grow my company, but it could also give me the platform to inform many more people about who Bailey is, what she means to me, and how [she] and her cape will make an impact on the 2.7 million people in wheelchairs across the United States.”
Bailey 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.
“I presented a coat that we made for her that was easier and safer than a regular coat to Tiger Tank and won a paid internship at D-Terra Solutions in Columbus over the summer through Scott Watters,” she said. “The company focuses on product development and did just that for my product. Over the summer, we found a manufacturer and got an official prototype made. He has helped me with every step of this process, including setting up a business bank account, fundraising, and being an incredible mentor since the day we met at Tiger Tank. Every question that I have had - and there have been a lot - he has helped me answer or connected me with someone who can. I’m so thankful to work with him and Wittenberg. Tiger Tank has given me the resources to pursue my passion with an amazing team behind me every step of the way. I am beyond thankful to have had that opportunity as a freshman.”
“Melanie had great passion for her product and it showed in her presentation,” said Watters, whose company assists with fundraising, equity and debt solutions, capital and finance restructuring. “Bailey Bug is very personal to her. Melanie was just a freshman at the time, and I was impressed by how well she presented in front of a large group. I already had some contacts in mind that I felt would be a good fit to help Melanie get her product launched. We talked about her goals and what she wanted to gain from this experience. She convinced me that she was committed to turning this into a business, so I reached out to a longtime friend, Mike Billman, who works for D-Terra Solutions in Columbus, Ohio. D-Terra helps individuals or companies take product ideas and make them a reality. They gave Melanie a paid summer internship, helped her create a business plan, and created product specifications, prototypes, and stage-gate launch plans. They also connected her with lawyers to help set up her LLC and trademarks for Bailey Bug.
“Melanie handles herself extremely well in front of an audience and I believe she can get to the finals of Shark Tank,” Watters added. “Bailey Bug helps make people’s lives in wheelchairs more comfortable. It not only helps the disabled, but also caregivers. Getting to future rounds in Shark Tank is just icing on the cake for her. It also goes to show that these young students have great ideas and great passion to make a difference. Melanie also wants to keep Bailey Bug LLC local. This is not only a great thing for Melanie, but for Wittenberg University and the Springfield community. Let’s wish her luck and Tiger Up!”
Watters and Barrett have continued to do just that. This past academic year, the two were able 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.
“TAC is a great company that employs, connects and cares for people with developmental or physical disabilities…so it's a win-win,” Watters said.
Upon learning more, TAC agreed to be Bailey Bug’s production company, and this 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, auditioned for Shark Tank, and are very excited to see the growth of the company and give back to Springfield,” Barrett said.
And the connections didn’t stop there.
“We also connected her with Cary Hanosek, a wealth advisor with Merrill Lynch,” Watters said. “She started an adaptive clothing company with the inspiration coming from the need for comfortable ‘regular’ clothing for her daughter to wear that would allow for weekly infusions to treat a rare, severe form of epilepsy. Cary had already worked through many of the same steps that Melanie needed to take to launch her product. As a proud Springfielder, Cary jumped at the chance to collaborate with Melanie.”
The cost of one of Bailey’s Capes is $75, and the company offers customizable fabrics to allow one’s personality to shine through. The story behind the product is equally enlightening.
“The idea started when putting a coat on Bailey just became too much. It was not only difficult, but also unsafe. Bailey's Capes solve every problem and are jackets for a wheelchair,” Barrett said. “The coats are made soft and warm just like Bailey was, by people with disabilities. She was an incredible example of strength and grace as she went through life. The chance of continuing her story, and her life helping to change other lives, means the world to me. Although she never spoke a word, we heard her loud and clear. She never took a step, but traveled through all of our hearts. In her innocence, she gave to us a living model of some of the characteristics which we all strive for: trust, love, patience, and hope.”
Barrett said that her company will be offering other products, which will be announced soon. For more information on her and her products, check out https://www.baileybug.org/contact.html, Baileybug.org and Bailey Bug LLC.