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When Mark Kiehne discovered a link between his expertise in fuel injection and his baby son’s feeding problems, he was on the way to developing a product that would have a massive worldwide market. By Cameron Bayley

Picture a mother or father of a young baby with colic and reflux problems. They’re soaked in formula, zombie-like from getting up several times in the night to attend a screaming patient. And they’re not alone, this is probably happening in millions of homes around the world, but that doesn’t comfort them much.

"It was a nightmare. Something had to be done," says Mark Kiehne, who was living the nightmare not long after his son Brandon was born in 1997. Luckily, during a middle of the night bottle-feed, Kiehne had his eureka moment. "I could see there was a huge problem with the bottle. The way it was designed it couldn’t breathe. Like a fuel tank in a car, they’ve got to breathe as well, for the fuel to flow," Kiehne says. "I could see the fluid wasn’t flowing in the bottle and the baby was swallowing air, and getting erratic fluid delivery, causing the colic and reflux."

So he invented his own bottle. Kiehne is one of very few people who could equate the baby feeding process with a fuel tank. At the time, he was one of five specialists in Australia in fuel injection, and so he had the appropriate tools at his disposal to diagnose the problem and invent a solution. He spent the next two years developing a bottle to help relieve the symptoms of colic. "I thought, if my child is suffering and I can fix it, I think I’ll share this with the world and try and make a product and a business out of it."

The journey from mechanic to inventor and entrepreneur didn’t happen overnight. For a while he was working as a mechanic during the day, coming home and designing the bottle until midnight. His wife, Helen, had become quite ill after their son’s birth, so Kiehne was doing his fair share of nursing. "I had my hands well and truly full. Did it all myself. It was very tough."

After developing the prototype, Kiehne knew some kind of medical or scientific support would be a big help in getting such a product on the market, so he contacted the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane and asked for their head paediatrician. They were very keen to see the product, and after some negotiation a meeting was set up with Doctor Geoff Cleghorn, clinical director of the Children’s Nutrition Research Centre at the hospital.

The meeting with Dr Cleghorn led to a clinical study, with participants found through advertising on a Brisbane television show. Within half an hour of the show airing, all places had been filled and the station’s phone lines ran hot for another fortnight, says Kiehne. And he realised there were plenty of sick babies, and frazzled parents looking for a solution.

The outcome of the study—comparing Kiehne’s with other bottles on the market—was very promising. "It gave me the scientific data on what was happening with these bottles. That was the biggest thing," says Kiehne. The data proved his bottle worked.

While other bottles used various technologies, Kiehne’s final product incorporated all technologies into the one unit: "We didn’t add any extra parts doing it," he says proudly.

Going Global

It was time to deliver the newly named Baby Bliss feeding technology to the world. Kiehne searched the internet for the world’s best manufacturers and approached the top five. He eventually decided on Thailand-based manufacturer Royal Industries, one of the largest producers of baby products in the world, distributing for many of the world’s top brands. They licence the Baby Bliss technology from Kiehne, and will distribute the product for him. He now holds three patents in 45 countries.

At the time of publication, the product was set to launch in Australia and Kiehne was already planning his second invention: a spill-proof cup. There was also talk of the Baby Bliss bottles being adapted for countries faced with unsafe drinking water. "What the product could actually do is provide formula to babies in Third World countries where you can’t open the bottle up and refill it, and it can’t be contaminated with dirty water. It’s pre-packaged formula: use it once and throw it away. It’s a great concept." The project will involve collaboration with world health organisations and will require a lot of financial support, which Kiehne hopes will come with time.

When asked what the biggest challenge has been, Kiehne doesn’t need to stop and think. "Funding," he says immediately. "There’s no funding in Australia for new inventions. I’ve had to go and license this overseas. I would rather have made the thing here and exported it around the world."

The lack of funding has meant getting Baby Bliss up and running has been a big financial outlay for Kiehne. "I had to sell everything I had to do it. My house, my race team, my tools, my cars; I had to sell off assets to keep it alive."

However, for Kiehne the potential financial rewards pale when he remembers who else will reap the benefits of his invention. "I get more satisfaction out of knowing that I’m going to be helping all these babies," he says.

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