BOSTON (CBS) – Years ago, and far from Boston, Reagan James and his wife would trek back and forth with their three children from their home in Norway to visit James’ native New Zealand. Over time, lugging bulky conventional car seats half-way across the world became a major headache.
“My parents saw this need for an easier device to travel with,” James’ oldest son Niklas told CBS Boston.
His dad, an engineer, had a solution: design a lightweight, foldable child car seat. But it wasn’t until years later, shortly after Niklas James arrived in Boston to attend Harvard Business School that the idea of marketing the design became a reality.
“I saw the terrific entrepreneurship community that is in the city, and particularly at HBS,” Niklas James told CBS Boston. “I saw the opportunity to push this product.”
The convenient, safety-first, lightweight, foldable design for James’ front-facing child seat has the potential to revolutionize the car seat industry in the U.S.
But getting there will require James’ Boston-based start-up, Te Tama to clear a few significant hurdles. That’s where MassChallenge comes in. The competition has picked Te Tama and its “Safeboard” car seat design as one of 125 finalists in this year’s competition. The privately-funded contest awards promising entrepreneurs with world-class mentorship, free office space, access to funding, media and more. Finalists participate in a three-month accelerator program that begins in late June. At the end, 10 to 20 startups are chosen to split $1 million in cash awards.
Already, Te Tama has won a $200,000 grand prize in a national Norwegian contest and gained significant interest from private investors.
The Safeboard car seat is currently in the product development stage. The final design will be a front-facing seat specifically for children between 20 and 80 lbs. It should weigh about 13 lbs. and will fold up to look like a small surfboard.
Once the design is finalized, Te Tama will choose an engineering firm to build a prototype for crash tests. The design will include the current LATCH system for installation, but will be lighter and more user-friendly. James says the seat will also surpass National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety requirements.
“We have worked with car seat engineers to confirm that our concept can and will pass all international standard security and safety regulations,” he said. “Safety is something we cannot under any circumstance compromise with a product like this. We’re talking about children’s safety.”
The final step is finding a manufacturing partner and getting the car seat into the market.
Target dates are tough to pin down, but James is eyeing 2013 as a possibility for Safeboard’s release. If successful, James hopes to develop an entire line of seats aimed at other age groups.