Presented by Arch Grants
STL Startup Tiny Superheroes is On A Mission of Inclusivity
Four years ago, Robyn Rosenberger wanted something special to gift her nephew on his second birthday, so she pulled out the sewing machine she’s quick to admit wasn’t seeing a lot of regular use, and made him a simple superhero cape. The present was a hit, so she sewed a few more, for her son and her dog and even sold a few on Etsy.
When Rosenberger started reading Blessed By Brenna, a blog about a young girl born with a severe skin condition, she knew she needed to make and send that Brenna her own superhero cape, and an origin story began.
Tiny Superheroes, founded in 2013, is a St. Louis-based company with a mission of empowering children faced with illness or disability through donated superhero capes.
Recently named a 2016 Arch Grants Recipient, the startup has now produced more than 10,000 capes for kids in all 50 states and more than 16 countries around the world.
Knowing When to Jump
After sending that initial cape to Brenna, Rosenberger decided to reach out to other bloggers with sick or disabled kids and send them capes as well. One of those grateful families knew a writer for Today.com, and Rosenberger and her hobby almost instantly received national attention and hundreds of requests for more capes.
She tried to keep up, while maintaining a full-time, then part-time job working for a software company in Seattle. She, created the first 1,000 capes from her own living room and even enlisted some helpful friends to assist, but the demand was high.
When ABC News and Diane Sawyer called to speak with her just six months into the project, she knew she had to make a choice.
“That was the moment that I thought, “I either need to say no to this story, or I need to just quit my job and go for it,” Rosenberger says. “And against everything we would naturally do, my husband and I decided to go for it.”
So Rosenberger went all in, creating an LLC for Tiny Superheroes, finding a production partner in Seattle-based sewing family and eventually moving to St. Louis to be closer to family after having her second child. That move led her to other valuable resources.
Taking the Next Steps
Once landing in St. Louis, Rosenberger connected with mentors and other female-led companies through the Prosper Institute, which helped her make her next big move. “Prosper Masterminds was the first place that motivated me to go out for an Arch Grant,” says Rosenberger.
“I was really hesitant because I’m someone who gets easily overwhelmed and I didn’t have a formal business plan and hadn’t pitched in front of large groups of people. But I just kind of went for it. I was shocked to have received it, because I know that there so many amazing companies that go out for it. I really appreciate that they’ve given me a shot.”
Now in the program, Rosenberger is already making some positive pivots. Through this journey, what I’ve learned is that we all have differences and we all have superpowers and I really want to train children to see those differences as superpowers,” says Rosenberger.
On top of the cape donations and sales, Rosenberger has added a subscription service called Tiny Superheroes Squad which aims to teach children just that.
Each month, kids of all abilities who sign up will receive a mission to earn patches for their capes with themes around gratitude, kindness and strength. Tiny Superheroes Squad will also introduce a new a new tiny superhero each month and talk about what makes that child special, encouraging families along the way to talk about what makes their child different and to embrace that.
“We’re hoping the Tiny Superheroes Squad is more of a movement of exposure and education so we can really appreciate the strength that a child in a wheelchair has, along with the strength that a child of divorce has,” says Rosenberger. ”So our focus will still be illness and disability education, but our impact will be much grander if we make it a more inclusive community.”