ONTARIO -- Amy Hiner can thank her mischievous 2-year-old boy and an aging, but still rambunctious dog for the inspiration to start her first business.
The Ontario mother launched Gate Genie earlier this year, a business selling fashionable, but affordable fabric covers for child and pet safety gates.
"Initially, I wasn't using safety gates. I refused to use them because they were too ugly," Hiner said, before glancing at 2-year-old Evan, who was determined to crawl up on her lap instead of playing with his 6-year-old sister Maeley.
"Then, he (Evan) kept going towards the stairs, and I had to constantly chase him. So I thought, all right, there's got to be something that's pretty."
She searched both in stores and online, but found nothing fitting her needs. She temporarily rigged a patterned cloth with ribbons on both sides to either side of the banister, which deterred Evan from crawling up the stairs, but she wanted something more sturdy and reliable long-term.
"That's what I used to do: I rigged things to work. And I thought, OK, I'll stop rigging, start inventing and do something that's way safer than what's already out there," Hiner said. "So what I did was I created a cover to go over a wooden safety gate ... The cover just goes over it, but doesn't mess with any of its safety features."
She says the gate has transformed life in her family's house. She feels her children are safer and because the gate looks nice or blends in, she doesn't tear it down when having company.
Hiner pitched the idea of Gate Genie last fall at the Richland Idea Audition and was named one of six finalists. From there she refined her idea and pitched again at another entrepreneur-friendly event, Sundown Rundown.
These events and several entrepreneurs in Mansfield have been helpful to her. She highlighted Victoria Langer, Julie McCready, Victoria Norris-Diez and Bob Leach of Braintree, but still Hiner said, it's been challenging to get her business up and running.
"There are tons of barriers for entrepreneurs, and my circumstances have allowed me to keep on working through those barriers, but I could see how most people may not be able to overcome those barriers," Hiner said. "Richland County is on the right track, but we're not there yet."
She described challenges associated with getting a vendor's license and making a professional video of her product.
At this time, Hiner is testing price points for her existing product and working a prototype for metal safety gates. She's also applying to get the Gate Genie listed on websites like Jane.com.