Having sold around $3 million worth of innovative portable booster seats to parents across the world, Jon Sumroy, Leeds-born CEO and inventor of mifold, is in the driver’s seat…
Can you tell us about your background?
I’m originally from Leeds. I studied pharmacy at The University of Manchester and worked as a pharmacist for a few years in London. When I realised that pharmacy wasn’t for me, I went to work for Unilever for many years in marketing and in 1995 they asked me if I would help set up Unilever Israel. I spent five years there and then relocated to the US. Years later, I also set up my own digital and consulting company, and that’s what I was doing in 2013 when I started working on the mifold idea. I’ve had quite a varied career, and everything I did before I focused on mifold gave me some skill that helped me bring it to market.
How does the mifold work?
A regular booster seat is very simple: it lifts the child up and by lifting the child, putting the child in the position of an adult, so the lap belt goes on the bones of the hips, and the chest strap, which is supposed to rest on the bone of the shoulder, isn’t too high or rubbing on the neck of the child. mifold does the exact opposite. Instead of lifting the child up, the mifold holds the seatbelt down, and because it’s lowering the seatbelt, it doesn’t need to be so big and bulky.
What makes the mifold stand out from the crowd?
It’s the most compact booster seat ever invented because it is more than 10 times smaller than a regular booster seat and is just as safe.
It can fit in the glove compartment or a child’s school bag, meaning they can take it on holiday without lugging around something heavy, or even use it in a taxi. It’s also a successful solution for grandparents who may see their grandkids now and then, maybe just at weekends, and don’t want to have the whole car cluttered with bulky car seats just for when the children are around.
What inspired you to invent the mifold booster seat?
The inspiration came from our own need. I was living in the States in 2000 and 2001, and my kids, who were little at the time, were involved in a lot of carpooling with neighbours. We had children in our car that didn’t have the right kind of booster seat, or my children were in other people’s cars without the right seating. I wanted a way of having a car seat that was so small that children could keep it with them in their school bag.
However, I had a full time job and life just got busy. But in 2012, a friend of mine sent me an article, some research done by the University of Michigan, which found that over half of kids in America don’t have a car seat when carpooling. It just reminded me of my idea and I thought it should probably be something that I look at again.
Why did you set up the company in Israel?
mifold started as a hobby while I happened to be living in Israel. There’s just a mentality in Israel that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it and get some good people together. There is an incredible wealth of amazing people in terms of industrial design, mechanical engineering and material science. I managed to put together an amazing team of people that could take the idea and develop something that looks beautiful and works well.
There’s a lot of responsibility in terms of safety education and promoting safe practice. How has this been?
I take safety as our number one priority. The whole point of this is to keep children safe on journeys, so we have invested a huge amount in the testing during the development stage. It is quite complicated to make something so small and still strong enough to withstand the force in a crash test, and we have worked closely with regulatory experts.
We have a very active Facebook community, and somebody posted recently that they had been in a serious crash. Their two kids were using mifold car seats and had both been fine. This was the first time we had ever heard of anybody that’s actually been in a collision while using mifold, so for us it was a major milestone. Even if one life can be saved then that will be worth everything we have put in.
Will we be seeing the mifold in UK stores soon?
Yes you will! We have just signed an agreement with a UK distributor called Whitestep, which sells other juvenile products, and the product will be available before the end of the year. It’s going to be available at John Lewis, Amazon.co.uk and other UK retailers too, but that’s all still in the pipeline.
Do you get back to Leeds often?
I do! It will always be home, but I actually left Leeds in 1986. My family, my parents and my sister, still live in Leeds, as do my wife’s family.
It’s incredible how the city has developed. I haven’t been the city for about a year so I’m due for a visit, but I’ve been seeing new pictures of the new John Lewis and other developments and it’s just amazing. But the thing I miss in particular about England is the Leeds Rhinos …and Marmite!