Black mum creates app to help parents wean their toddlers onto healthy foods

Welcome to Black Owned, a series that celebrates the brilliant Black entrepreneurs doing bits in the UK.

Despite the challenges, the community continues to create important and brilliant work – and we’re here to make sure that you know about it. 

This week, we’ve got a mum who started her own baby nutrition app after struggling to find support when she was weening her son onto solids. Marie Farmer is the founder of Mini Mealtimes, which has been running for three years.

Why did you start Mini Mealtimes?

I created the app in 2017 because I was worried about my son’s nutrition and didn’t know where to look for support. I spoke to my friends and they felt the same way.

Luckily, I worked in tech so had the skills and network to start building a solution for parents.

What exactly does the app do and how does it help parents?

By scanning barcodes, searching our database, or selecting suggested recipes, the app helps parents easily monitor their children’s nutrition and generates personalised health reports so parents can see how their child’s intake aligns with recommendations.

This offers the parents the support they need to create nutritious meals, and most importantly, the reassurance that they’re doing the right thing.

Is it important for Black-owned businesses to be obviously Black-owned?

I think it’s really important for founders, especially Black founders, to be confident enough to be the forefront of their business. If I’m ever worried that being Black might negatively affect me, I remember that anyone who would treat me differently because of my skin colour or background is not someone I’d want to work with.

For me, it’s also important to recognise that, just because I’m Black, it does not mean my business is exclusively for Black consumers – businesses run by Black founders cover a wide spectrum of markets and should not be pigeon-holed. 

Did your identity as a Black woman have any effect on the setting up of your business?

Just as in society as a whole, there are obstacles to overcome that some people don’t even realise are there.

The old adage that you need to work twice as hard to get half as much is certainly true. However, there are organisations and individuals out there that are supporting and advocating for Black businesses.

The Prince’s Trust and Bethnal Green Ventures have been a huge help to me from the beginning, and fellow founder Janine Sickmeyer is a strong and passionate supporter of my business and those of other Black founders.

Women in tech are already a rarity and Black women are even rarer. Have you looked to anyone in particular as a role model in the field? 

When I closed my eyes and thought of a business owner I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. This didn’t put me off, though, it made me want to work harder.

In the last few years, I’ve learned more about some truly inspirational women in business and tech. Women like Arlan Hamilton (who built a venture capital fund while being homeless), June Angelides (the 6th Most Influential BAME Tech Leader according to the FT), Sharmadean Reid (founder of Beauty Stack), Liana Fricker (the founder of The Inspiration Space), Sophie Medlin (a consultant dietitian), Anne Marie Imafidon MBE (the most influential woman in UK tech, according to Computer Weekly) just to name few.

Some of these women I’ve had the pleasure of working with and some I just admire from afar, but there are so many more amazing women in tech that should be celebrated.

You’ve been crowdfunding. What are you raising money for?

I previously crowdfunded to help me fund the first version of the app and now that we’ve managed that, I’m aiming to raise a much larger amount to help fund the newest features that parents are asking for. 

We are working to include filtering options for vegans, vegetarians, and diets restricted by religious beliefs, allergies or aversion to certain tastes or textures. 

We are also creating options to set daily and weekly budgets for meals, integrate with online retailers and offer online consultations with our team of dieticians so that we can offer parents even more support and enable them to make the healthiest choices for their families. 

What kind of feedback have you received?

I’m very excited about the future of the app and the positive impact it will have on children and parents. During the lockdown, it broke my heart to see so many families struggle to feed their children, and it was incredible to hear from some of these families who told me that the app had helped them make difficult decisions and had enabled them to keep making healthy choices for their children.

This is all the motivation I need to keep working, keep growing the business and help even more families in the future.

What advice do you have for other women looking to start their businesses?

My advice is to work with your peers and have a good support network.

The big issue is how to raise money, and I would advise being very careful not to get into debt early on. I’d suggest looking into crowdfunding, as well as exploring the free resources to help you validate your idea without spending any money. The Prince’s Trust, Virgin startups, YSYS, Blooming Founders, Allbright, and Google campus have free or very affordable resources.

There are also free Facebook groups like Doing It For The Kids and The Black-Owned Economy where you can find invaluable peer support, especially if you’re a parent.

Download the Mini Mealtimes app here.

Do you have a story to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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