The NightOwl Sleeper, an oval-shaped pod from Sleep Environment Innovations, offers potential protection against co-sleeping dangers for parents who cannot resist a nap with their new bundles of joy.

Sleep Environment Innovations was founded in 2014 by Jennifer Doering, a Ph.D. and registered nurse, and vice president Greg Krzecki. It is dedicated to providing parents and their babies a safe, comfortable environment while sleeping through the use of products such as the NightOwl Sleeper. Doering has developed her knowledge of sleep environments due to clinical experiences and research.

Doering noted that current products focus on monitoring the baby. This type of monitoring includes triggering an alarm if the baby stops moving or breathing due to materials blocking their airway.

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“But in those situations it can be too late. Why not prevent that in the first place? If you monitor the environment before the baby then you can prevent those situations,” Doering said. “Women who knew the risks and still wanted to sleep with their babies would ask for advice on how to create a safer environment and as a nurse, not having a good answer other than to say, ‘Don’t do it,’ well the mothers weren’t buying it.”

Krzecki, a U.S. Navy veteran with more than 20 years in corporate aviation, also brings years of experience in industrial and medical manufacturing with expertise in Human Machine Interface design.

“He approaches the world from his experience in aviation safety,” Doering said. “He uses this approach of reducing hazard which we don’t use when it comes to baby safety, we try to eliminate the hazard altogether (by telling parents not to do it). The airline industry understands they can’t eliminate the hazard but they can find ways to minimize it.”

The company developed the NightOwl Sleeper for babies under six months. It is a structural half dome, similar to an oval-shaped pod that eliminates risk of parents rolling on their infants. This structure also reduces the risk of entrapment and strangulation. Unlike its U.S. competitors, the NightOwl Sleeper provides a longer product life span, more height to prevent babies from falling out, portability and flexibility on any stable surface. There is added protection above the baby to keep materials from falling on them. However, if heavy materials fall on the product it triggers an alarm, allowing parents time to respond.

Doering said there are several reasons why the NightOwl Sleeper stands out among the rest. A notable difference is that the NightOwl Sleeper offers 360-degrees of protection versus 180- degrees that its competition provides.

“To our knowledge, no sleeper products include technology like we’re recommending,” Doering said.

Another difference will be cost. The company hopes to target households with parents who choose to co-sleep with their baby but are seeking out safer options. This includes a large range of parents with various amounts of household income. “Everything we find runs in the neighborhood of $200 or more. We are aiming to lower cost.”

The company hopes to launch its product at the ABC Kids Expo trade show in Las Vegas in October. It has received a grant from the UWM Research Foundation as well as a grant from UW Extension, but the company is still seeking additional funds to finish research and development, third-party safety testing and more.

Doering was selected as a semi-finalist in the 2015 Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will take place June 2-3 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Madison.

— By Taylor Browning, for Browning is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communications.