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Startup Soon to Sprint

Heather Dalton, CEO of StrollRunner The Body is slouched, the hands are tightly gripped around the handlebars and the feet are constantly kicking the axle. It all looks so unnatural. It can be painful to witness.

"Twelve years ago I had a running stroller and it was terrible. I vowed one day I would find something better," said Heather Dalton, Founder and CEO of StrollRunner.

StrollRunner is a woman-owned startup based in Burlington, Vt. designing a steerable, hands-free running belt that attaches to jogging strollers.

"When I'd run years after having a baby, I'd see someone running with a stroller, they'd look miserable and I'd think 'I'm going to fix that,'" Dalton said.

There are some hands-free products available, but Dalton says they are at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Hiqh-quality ones are cost prohibitive and the affordable ones are inadequate.

Dalton wanted to make one that is high-quality and affordable. But she never knew where to start.  All she knew was there was this problem and she wanted to solve it. One day a couple of years ago she was explaining her idea to a friend who recommended a best-selling motivational book. Dalton said the book was so inspiring she pushed her fear aside and finally decided to do something. She pitched the idea to a friend who is an engineer who said he thought he could help. Together they made her first prototype, which was made from a kidney belt used for off-road motorcycle racing. From there she kept refining it and testing. She said it was a bit of a learning curve using it at first, but it worked.

Meanwhile she was doing all of this on a shoestring budget. Dalton knew she was going to need additional capital to get her product manufactured. One day brainstorming with a few friends, one suggested a Small Business Administration loan. Not knowing much about the agency Dalton visited and discovered Lender Match. Lender Match is a free online referral tool that connects entrepreneurs with participating SBA-approved lenders. Users receive an email with contact information of interested lenders two business days after submitting answers to a few basic questions.  

Community Capital of Vermont in Barre turned out to be the match for Dalton. CCVT is nonprofit community-based financial institution that is part of the SBA's Microloan Program, provides small businesses with loans up to $50,000, which can be used for working capital, inventory, furnishings and equipment. Dalton applied for the loan in March and it was approved in April.  

During the same timeframe, Dalton also applied for LaunchVT, an eight-week accelerator providing mentorship to startups. At first she was not accepted, but one entrepreneur selected could not make the commitment, so Dalton was able to take their slot.  It worked out well because eight weeks later during LaunchVT's Demo Day in June, Dalton won the top prize, the $15,000 Investors' Award.

With her SBA loan and Investor's Award Prize, Dalton has been able to upgrade her website, market her product and manufacture several belts for beta testing.  

"We have filed our patent and trademark applications. We are finalizing the design with a new iteration shortly.  Right now I'm focused on building further awareness so we have an audience ready to buy once we make them available." StrollRunner is hoping to start taking orders in 2020.

Dalton often says that StrollRunner may not be the first to market, but it will be the best on the market.


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