Family Run

From A Single Sketch To A Full-Fledged Business, This Teen And Her Dad Are Helping People With Parkinson's

"As I get older, I understand the sacrifices my family made for this project. That China trip cost more than my dad's car at the time."

From A Single Sketch To A Full-Fledged Business, This Teen And Her Dad Are Helping People With Parkinson's

Each month, our Family Run series profiles amazing families who work together in some capacity. From starting businesses, inventing products, collaborating artistically, and beyond, these family members are making positive contributions to the world together and strengthening their family bonds in the process.

When Lily Born was just 7 years old, she noticed her grandfather, who has Parkinson's disease, would often spill his beverages. This is common for people with the condition, which can cause tremors in hands or fingers as well as slowed movement and rigid muscles. Over time, the disease can make simple tasks, such as eating and drinking, very difficult. Lily felt bad her grandmother had to clean up spills so often, but even worse that her grandfather felt embarrassed. 

"Those kinds of things are a big deal because it causes a loss of dignity and a loss of independence," Lily told A Plus. 

Lily thought his cup would be less prone to spills if it had "legs," so she drew a sketch of such a cup for her dad, Joe Born.

"He took it seriously and told me, 'That's your invention. Sign and date it' which I did," she said. "From that sketch, we went to grandma and grandpa's house and made a prototype. This is just hand-moldable plastic molded around a plastic juice cup from grandma's cupboard, but it worked!" 

After some trial and error, the Borns got the cup with legs just right and gave it to Lily's grandpa, who used it every day after that. 

About a year later, her aunt took her to a local pottery studio. Lily had noticed her dad was always spilling coffee on his computer's keyboard, so she decided to make him a ceramic version of her cup with legs. He loved it, too. 

Though her family was enjoying the cups, Lily didn't see them as more than gifts and didn't place much value on them. She was also struggling in school. "I was afraid of failing fourth grade. It had kind of destroyed my confidence to be honest," Lily said. "One day I asked my dad, 'What am I good at?' He asked me if I wanted to take the cups into production. I think he had an idea it would make me see being an inventor was a real thing and something to be proud of." 

Her father went out of his way to show Lily her invention meant something, even if she wasn't receiving validation for it in school. 

"I felt like if we put this up for sale, and people bought them, that would really create evidence and show that it was something serious and not just a little, cutesy thing, but a real talent she had," Joe said.

The Borns flew to Jingdezhen, China to find a factory that would produce the cups and make more prototypes. They came up with a name for their company — Imagiroo — and called their innovative cups Kangaroo Cups. Then, they used two different crowdfunding sites to try to sell them. 

"We sold something like 1,000 cups," Lily said. "Really I had no idea what that even meant at that point, but there were tons of really, very supportive people who left wonderful comments about how the cups would help them and that was amazing! I would look over my dad's shoulder at night and read those comments each night and see how many people wanted them, all over the world and the stories were amazing." 

Both Lily and Kangaroo Cups have grown a lot since then. The cups have been redesigned several times over, come in a variety of colors, and are now available in either ceramic or plastic on Imagiroo or on Amazon. 

"People are buying them for elderly relatives and people with mobility issues," Lily said. "Also hearing from kids, especially little girls is amazing. I had a first-grader in Georgia do a report on me for school. We put that on the fridge!" 

As for Lily, becoming an entrepreneur at such a young age helped her overcome her shyness. She says she froze during her first FaceTime interview with a producer for a famous talk show, but has since come out of her shell and interviewed dozens of times for radio and TV. She's even presented to senators and the director of the patent office at the White House. 

"Watching Lily blossom over this whole adventure has been the biggest thrill for me as a dad," Joe said. "I just can't put into words how good it feels to see her have confidence and be able to present herself and really be comfortable. It's really just absolutely amazing." 

The Kangaroo Cups, and its widespread positive effects, would not have been possible if it weren't for Joe encouraging his then 7-year-old daughter to bring her sketch to life. 

"I love telling the story and when I say, 'then when I was 9, my dad asked me if I wanted to take my invention to production and we flew to China,' then their jaws kind of drop," she said. 

Best of all, running Imagiroo together has helped Lily and Joe develop an even stronger father-daughter bond. 

"I think this project has really made my dad and me super close," Lily said. "He's my business partner and he's very supportive. He goes with me all over and we're a team through some very high stress situations." 

Joe also feels lucky he's able to watch his daughter do something she's truly passionate about at such a young age. 

"I consider myself a pretty decent public speaker, but Lily is absolutely at the next level," he said. "She tells jokes. She interacts with the crowd. She can read the crowd and play to them. It's really kind of amazing. I would have no idea that was true if we didn't work together. I might just see the kid with the messy room and all that." 

"Of course, there are lots of ways kids can shine, I'm lucky we found one of Lily's that I could participate in."

Joe recently asked Lily what she thought life would be like if they never started Imagiroo. She thinks things would be totally different. "She said that she thinks she'd probably still be asking, 'What am I good at?'" he said. "Knowing that I contributed in at least some way to that growth is probably the single thing I'm most proud of in the world." 

Lily just turned 15 last month and is, of course, a full-time high school student in addition to the work she does for Imagiroo. Now that she's a teenager, she realizes that running this business hasn't always been easy for her or her family. 

"As I get older, I understand the sacrifices my family made for this project. That [first] China trip cost more than my dad's car at the time," she said. "It was not a great car."

All in all, Lily's Kangaroo Cups have made a positive contribution in the lives of many and strengthened her family bonds in the process. 

"We're kind of a weird family, but I'm pretty proud of that," she said. 

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