JO Hardie never thought of herself as inventive, let alone an entrepreneur.
That changed a year ago, when her three daughters, aged between six and two, simultaneously came down with a vomiting bug.
"We ran out of towels and I got online to find something waterproof so we didn't have to keep washing them and I couldn't find anything," the Maitland mother recalls.
Her initial idea to create a product that was like a slimmer version of a foam mattress for a baby's change table was axed after she trialled it on one of her daughters in the car. Her husband Gary then pointed out she didn't need foam, so she researched materials for a towel that would be most useful for kids during car travel but had multiple uses - for example in toilet training and even as a comforter.
What she came up with is Spewy, a towel that has a cotton print on top, an absorbent centre (a mix of terry towelling and microfibres) and a waterproof bottom which protects carseats, lounges or bedding, depending on where a sick child is.
Ms Hardie says children often struggle to be sick into a bag, whereas her product measures about one metre square and once used can be put in a waterproof bag "to stop the spewy smell" and washed and dried quickly.
As for that brand name...
"People love it!" says Ms Hardie, who worked as a personal banker prior to having children. "They say, 'I stopped to look at what it was', which is what we want. At local markets, the most popular comment is actually from grandparents, who say they wish it was around when they had young kids."
Ms Hardie's battle to find a manufacturer in China almost put an end to her idea. But her business coach Jelinda Millgate at The Business Centre in Newcastle helped her find a Chinese manufacturer which refined a sample she tested to ensure it was effective, for example holding up to two litres of water.
Spewy is sold online and in 15 Hunter stores, and Ms Hardie aims to have her own manufacturing plant to create local jobs in the future.
In June she pitched Spewy at a Business Centre event which led to talks with aged care and disability operators.
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