May 21, 2014 - 9:45am

Minnesota Baby Pillows Go Global, Thanks to Ex-Im

Baby Elephant Ears.jpg

Photo: Courtesy of Baby Elephant Ears
Photo: Courtesy of Baby Elephant Ears website

Some people think that the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) is providing “welfare” to companies who would be “just fine without it.” Opponents argue that the bank only benefits major multinational companies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ex-Im is vitally important to small- and medium-sized businesses that want to break into overseas markets. In fact, small- and medium-sized businesses, account for more than 85% of the bank’s transactions.

And those Ex-Im customers are quite happy. A new Ex-Im survey of more than 2,100 small business customers found that 95% would recommend Ex-Im Bank to another exporter, while 86%  reported they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their overall Ex-Im Bank experience.

One of those Ex-Im small business customers is Minnesota-based Baby Elephant Ears, which last week, was named Small Business Exporter of the Year by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Like many small business owners, Alicia Overby created the baby support pillows out of need:

After a doctor diagnosed her second child with colic, she persistently sought solutions that could comfort her infant. Talking with a chiropractor taught the family about neck support and yielded the suggestion to help support the baby’s neck with a rolled up towel or a clinical-looking pad that didn’t fit well.

Frustrated, the young mother borrowed a sewing machine from her neighbor and stitched together a pillow to support her baby’s neck. It looked a bit like elephant ears, flat behind the neck with puffy side flaps that rest just between the baby’s ears and shoulders.

Overby had never sewn before that day, but she said the pillow made a big difference for her child. Soon it was also making a difference for the babies of friends and relatives and other people who saw and wanted one. In September 2009, Overby and husband Scott incorporated Baby Elephant Ears.

The pillows have taken off, and according to the SBA, “Baby Elephant Ears today boasts annual sales of more than $1.3 million and is selling its products in more than 850 locations in the U.S. and over a dozen countries.”

An SBA loan helped Overby expand her business three years after they launched the company, but getting to overseas markets required the help of Ex-Im, which provides financing and export credit insurance for approximately 114 small businesses in Minnesota.

That’s a lot of baby pillows. And children’s books (Capstone Press), and dairy products (Davisco Foods), and scores of other small business products from the Gopher State.

See more Ex-Im small business testimonials here and show your support for Ex-Im by sending a letter to Congress urging them to reauthorize the bank’s operating authority.

About the Author

About the Author

Sheryll Poe is a former senior writer at the U.S. Chamber, who covered public policies affecting businesses including the three "T's" - transportation, trade and taxes.