September is Baby Safety Month, a reminder to make sure you’re doing everything in your power to keep your babies and young children out of harm’s way. And when it comes to reducing preventable injuries for babies and young kids, Dr. Sarah Shell, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, knows this well. As a dentist, she was aware of the serious electric injury a child could get from mouthing a USB charger cord, but when her son, Geddy, started to put a cord in his mouth, she saw how easily it could happen and set out to do something about it. Working with her husband (a neurologist) and a team of doctors, designers, and engineers during the COVID shutdown, they created the award-winning Watch your Mouth by Geddy’s Mom. This simple and portable device encapsulates the lead end of a charger and has a child-resistant closure to prevent children from putting a “live” wire into their mouths. We caught up with this NJ mom of one to talk about the aha moment that led to her developing the device, tips on keeping your baby safe at home, and where she goes with her family when she wants to feel like she’s in Italy (hint: it’s a farm).
Please tell me a little bit about your family.
I’m originally from Toronto but attended college in NYC, where I met my husband. We ended up moving to New Jersey to be closer to his job but still be within 30 minutes of the city. We live with our son, Geddy, who is now 3 years old.
How has being a dentist helped you develop Watch Your Mouth by Geddy’s Mom?
I didn’t start out studying dentistry. I originally studied fashion design at Parson’s School of Design in New York and worked in the field for almost a decade at Gucci, Club Monaco, and BCBG. Then, I moved back to Canada to launch a line of handbags. But eventually, working in fashion wasn’t fulfilling for me, and it also wasn’t putting forth the story I wanted for myself, so I left the industry to pursue dentistry. Strangely, it wasn’t that much of a shift for me since both require listening, problem-solving, and skillful dexterity techniques, but the field of dentistry gave me the depth of impact that I was craving. Early on, I came upon the case of a child who had sucked on the end of a USB charger, and I saw the devastating result, which is a scar (from the corner of his mouth up to his ear) he will have for the rest of his life. Then, when I had Geddy, I realized that it’s impossible to be on top of a child 24/7. Geddy grabbed a cord too and went to put it in his mouth, but luckily I could jump up and grab it out of his hand. I was so thankful that he wasn’t injured. It caused my husband (who is a neurologist and sees the long-term results of these types of injuries) and I to go on the hunt for a safety device that we could use to protect our child. When we discovered that there was nothing out there that could mitigate the hazard of leaving a charger plugged in, it was time to act. Before too long, Watch Your Mouth by Geddy’s Mom was born.
What was the “aha” moment that made you leap entrepreneurship?
It was definitely when I saw firsthand how easily an injury of this type could happen. My goal wasn’t to be a business owner, yet here we are. I love being a dentist, and at first, my only goal was to protect Geddy, but the more I spoke to other parents and safety advisors, there was no turning back once I saw the bigger picture. In my hands, I had the potential to save other children from a devastating injury, and even if it provided just one parent the opportunity to protect her child and give her a moment of one less worry, I knew I needed to share it. Early on in Covid, when dental offices were closed, I focused all of my attention on this, and to have that free time to devote to bringing this to market was a blessing in disguise.
What are some tips you have for keeping babies and kids safe?
It’s really important to get on your hands and knees so that you’re at the same level that your child is at. They like to examine everything they see, and they will likely put it in their mouth. Realize that you’ll have to do this as they grow and their line of sight changes. If something is in their line of sight, it’s a possibility they will figure out how to get to it. Cover all electrical outlets, secure all furniture and heavy items, and look out for all dangling chargers in their line of sight. Of course, when it comes to chargers, the gold standard is to unplug your charger, wrap it up, and put it in a safe place before replacing your electrical outlet cover. But we know that even when parents know the risk, they’re not always doing that. It might be inconvenient, they might be juggling a few things at the moment, or they might forget. We live in a modern, tech-driven world, and Watch Your Mouth by Geddy’s Mom offers an alternative —it’s the next best thing to unplugging, wrapping up, and putting away your charger every time it’s not in use.
How do you reset after a particularly challenging day?
What usually works for me is a long shower, a good round of yoga, or a family walk where I can vent to my husband. Another thing I think is beneficial is to get lost in a hobby, and personally, my hobby of choice since I was a kid is painting. I love drawing and painting, particularly the human and animal forms, and seeing how the muscles interact and the continuity of lines and connections from head to toe. But, since I had a baby, I have to remind myself to do the things that make me feel like my true self, and having this creative outlet opens my mind and allows me to function more clearly.
What’s next for you?
Continuing to get Watch Your Mouth by Geddy’s Mom off the ground is still my present, and dentistry is still my future. But, at Geddy’s Mom, we do have another product in the works, though I can’t share details of it yet. It will also be an innovative product that will set a new standard in safety and will be a welcome addition to the baby safety industry.
What are some of your favorite local NJ businesses?
I’m a big fan of the Toy Professor in Summit. They have a very interesting mix of unique toys and products, and it is so much better than the alternative, which is buying from a big box store. I’m a coffee snob—probably because there were small espresso specialty shops everywhere in Toronto—so I was delighted to discover Scotch Plains’ Black Drop Coffee. It’s a beautiful coffee shop with European quality coffee, dairy-free and healthy snack options, and an outdoor patio. I always get the Long Black, which is two espresso shots with two ounces of hot water, and Geddy goes insane for the Steamed Vanilla Oatmilk. I also really admire Summit Health. We get 360 degrees of care from them—there’s not one element of care that they don’t address. And as a Canadian, it’s very different from what I was used to.
What are some of your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?
We love being outdoors, and because the pandemic has given us even more family time, we’ve been able to explore that even more. A favorite is the South Mountain Reservation Waterfall, which is absolutely beautiful. Wagner Farm, a small farm in Warren that’s open to the public, is like stepping into the Italian countryside, though one that has a sensory garden, beautiful trees, and a wonderful maze to walk through. And Ponderosa Farm Park, a special splash pad park, was a wonderful discovery. Other places I highly recommend are the Turtleback Zoo, where Geddy loves the giraffes, alligators, and, much to my amazement, the giant, fake cow. We also went to Six Flags Great Adventure Wild Safari Drive-Thru Adventure at the height of Covid, and it was great to be able to stay safe in our car yet feel like we’d traveled to Africa.
What words of wisdom do you have for other NJMOMpreneurs considering entrepreneurship?
In life, we’re only given a certain amount of time to make an impact, and these types of things are almost always met with resistance. Don’t let that stop you. Know that it will be more challenging than you think and more expensive than you think, but it will make you stronger, smarter, and more capable than you know.