Two years ago, Suzie Welsh was working as a nurse at Penn Medicine's fertility practice, and female patients kept asking her advice on vitamins, probiotics, and all-organic, non-GMO products they felt comfortable putting in their bodies.
Then, the lightbulb went off.
"There wasn't one company with health experts in this market space, helping women get the products they need," including period support, fertility vitamins, probiotics, and supplements for women entering menopause.
"As a nurse, I got questions from patients all the time, and there's a lot of junk science out there. As consumers, we're left to figure it all out, and I knew I wanted to make my own product line."
She approached the Science Center at 37th and Market Streets, which has a space for entrepreneurs, and realized that "I really had no idea how to start a company." She was also pursuing a master's degree in health administration at the University of Pennsylvania, and got an email one day about a program for nursing and medical school students at the Wharton Business School. She applied with a vague business plan.
At Wharton's entrepreneurship program, "I built Binto there. The program culminated in a pitch day. We got funding out of that pitch day in April 2016. I left my job when I graduated, and I went full-steam ahead. That Wharton program gave me the mentorship and push I needed to say, 'I've got something cool here. I love it.' "
Binto's website prompts women to a question-and-answer about their health needs, then on to products: What brand of vitamins do I need? Is organic always the best?
For women facing menopause, "we're piloting that right now. That's our big 'ask,' women needing menopause support. We never do any sort of medicinal herbs that mimic a hormone, or use a hormone. We really are here to be supportive, and if you really need HRT (hormone replacement therapy), then go to the doctor. But what we can do is bone and joint support, osteo supplements, libido products, mood and depression, which is another big piece of menopause."
Customers of Binto get a monthly box with all the products they need, in a subscription service similar to Harry's, StitchFix, and BirchBox. Subscriptions start at $35 a month.
As for funding, "We got some money from angel investors; we did a ticketed launch party in September 2016 for a friends-and-family round of funding, and we raised $5,000 to showcase what we were doing."
Binto ultimately received $50,000 in funding from Ben Franklin Technology Partners.
The big leap? Quitting her job.
"That was tricky because I loved Penn. But I was ready to create this and forge my path. They knew I was in grad school and I'd be moving up the ladder. But I still talk to Penn and a lot of my patients. They've been very helpful in cheering me on. My fiancé and I bought a house, started a company, got engaged in October 2016."
A native of Bryn Mawr, Welsh, 28, attended Agnes Irwin School in Rosement and then the University of Virginia for an undergraduate degree in nursing. After college, she worked at Hahnemann University Hospital for three years in women's health, postpartum, and the neonatal intensive-care unit, then three years at Penn Medicine's Fertility Care while in graduate school in the evenings.
Binto stands for "Bun in the Oven," a name Welsh came up with at the last minute.
"Through the Wharton class, I initially named the company Mama's Box. As I was writing out my business plan, I realized this is so much more than a box company, it's a lifestyle company and more product-centric. Our vision is large. I knew that if I kept that name, it would be limiting. Our business plan was due at midnight and you couldn't change your name through the semester, so I went with Binto."
Her business cofounder Kevin Ramirez "brings technology and innovation marketing to the table, a skill set I don't have. He had an e-commerce background and another start-up he cofounded with his sister named Factsumo, an education-technology venture.
"He has been one of the keys. But one of the most important things to me is that we stay majority-women-owned."
Binto launched its beta program in September 2016, using other companies' products, but in a few months, Welsh decided "none of the brands were looking at reproductive health as a life cycle. So we now manufacture our own products, with our own formulations, all organic and non-GMO." Feminine-care products are organic and chemical-free. For menopause, Binto is testing a women's 50-plus product, and is looking into a vaginal-dryness product.
"Women's health has become a trendy market; we have the scientific background for vitamins or organic tampons. They may be female-founded, but do they necessarily have someone who knows the field? That sets us apart. We're the expert-founded model."