SINGAPORE (Apr 30): Being a frontline healthcare worker is tough these days. Add pregnancy to the mix and things get even tougher. Help has come in the form of 1,000 sets of Hegen PCTO Express-Store-Feed Starter Kit for healthcare workers in Singapore who are expecting.

This is the initiative of 39-year-old Yvon Bock, founder and CEO of Hegen, a homegrown mother and baby care brand company. Hegen is the creator of award-winning, innovative, practical and high-quality breastfeeding products.

The starter kit for newborns, also known as Hegen Cares, includes PCTO bottles (press to close, twist to open). With these, mothers can express and store their breast milk in a single container from which they can feed their babies, with no wasteful transfer of milk necessary, thus making every drop count. The manual breast pump is an essential accessory to encourage lactation and fully clear one’s breasts after a latch/pump. When asked if more starter kits will be distributed in future, Bock says that unfortunately some factories are shut or not able to keep up with the demand due to the pandemic.

While many charitable organisations are helping healthcare workers by providing meals, delivering groceries and giving them more personal protective equipment, Bock came up with this idea because of her customer — an operating theatre nurse who was working right up to the day she gave birth.

Bock recalls, “While preparing a gift set for her, we started to wonder about the thousands of other expectant mums putting their lives on the line and braving this pandemic. A feeding set is just a small token of our gratitude for their service. More importantly, we want to spread a little cheer to these amazing women for all their hard work.”

Hard work is something Bock is all too familiar with. Prior to starting Hegen, she worked in the banking sector, but took a break from her hectic corporate lifestyle and schedule while caring for her first child. The break allowed her to re-evaluate her priorities especially since she had just become a mother.

In 2004, she decided to work parttime for Fitson, her parents’ business that has been producing OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and ODM (original design manufacturer) mother and baby care products for more than 30 years. When she was pregnant with her second child in 2006, she took on a management trainee role at Fitson and overhauled her family business, which increased revenue by over 800% in three years. Her success inspired her to start her own business.

Spotting a gap in the mother and baby care market from her breastfeeding experience, Bock decided to create a line of mother and baby care products for mothers. She drew on her own experiences and what she learnt at Fitson in terms of research, design and precision engineering processes.

“When I started my breastfeeding journey 14 years ago, I had over 10 separate baby care products just for expressing, storing and feeding my breast milk. I started thinking about creating an integrated system [that uses one] bottle, which forms the cornerstone of Hegen today,” she says. Bock sees Hegen as a solution to the difficulties many 
mothers go through after giving birth.

In 2018, Bock won the prestigious Nova award at the Women’s Entrepreneur Awards. The Nova category recognises female entrepreneurs who have been in the same business for five years and who have demonstrated outstanding entrepreneurial qualities in developing and growing the business.

With the Covid-19 “circuit breaker” measures in place, Options interviews Bock via email about starting Hegen and how her family has kept her grounded.

Your journey began with a need for baby care products for expressing, storing and feeding breast milk. Then you applied your experience at Fitson to start Hegen. Were there other factors that contributed to your business growth?

Many people have asked us, what is the secret to our rapid success? While it is important that we create products that truly help, it is equally important that people understand what it took to create them. Hegen is not only about bottles, containers and breast pumps. Hegen is about my experience as a mother having to juggle breastfeeding and work simultaneously. It’s how I managed to defy the odds and breastfeed my four children for 10 years. At times I had to cope with 16-hour workdays, often tired to the core, yet still expressing my milk at work, and feeding my baby when I get home. But I never once gave up. I once spent a week overseas in a remote factory with a broken breast pump. Engorged to the point of having a fever, I had to manually express my breastmilk with my bare hand, but I refused to give up.

When we designed the very first version of our Hegen system, the concept was leaked, and another brand made a working prototype. We had to start again from scratch. Even then, I didn’t give up. After more than 200 prototypes, even our own design team had grown weary. Still, I never gave up. Finally, after almost five years, we launched and sold our first Hegen bottle. Hegen is about how a mother successfully juggled work and family, fulfilled her wish to breastfeed, championed the breastfeeding cause, empowered and inspired other mothers, and successfully invented a system to help others just like myself. This is why people around the world believe in Hegen; it’s about what our products represent. They are a reminder to never give up. They are an encouragement to all mothers — a reminder that you are not alone, and that you can do it too!
 
Does the word Hegen mean anything?

Hegen’s name comes from part of a German idiom “hegen und pflegen”, which means “what you hunt, you must farm; what you eat, you must grow”. Essentially, it is a reminder to cherish what we have and take only what we need from Mother Nature.

Do you think mothers need more education on breastfeeding?

Absolutely. Successful breastfeeding is a combination of technique, physical condition and psychology.

Mothers, especially first-timers, need to understand the psychological and physiological changes that happen during their transition to motherhood. I believe the most common problem many new mothers face is self-doubt or anxiety, and this can be alleviated with proper knowledge and skill sets.

My aim is to serve more mothers in a personal capacity, I am currently taking the Child Birth International course which provides up-to-date knowledge of lactation skills and a systematic approach to helping mothers on their breastfeeding journey.

From a business standpoint, Hegen has developed a series of Cherish Nature’s Gift seminars. These workshops focus on pre- and post-natal topics spanning across childbirth, how to kickstart breastfeeding and caring for your newborn.

Currently, we have conducted over 22 Cherish Nature’s Gift seminars across the region, reaching out to millions through a combination of live audiences and via our digital platforms. Our aim is to empower mothers to pursue their breastfeeding journey for as long as they like.

During this pandemic, you are giving out milk bottle gift sets to pregnant healthcare workers in Singapore. How did that come about?

This was really a case of serendipity. We chanced upon a Hegen user, who is an operating theatre nurse, and decided to feature her as our April “Mum of The Month” because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

As we were preparing a gift set for her, we started to think about the thousands of other pregnant frontliners who are putting their lives (and their babies’ lives) at risk to help keep Singapore safe. It was a no-brainer, really. As Singapore’s only baby bottle brand, we must support our healthcare mums-to-be in the best way we know how — to provide them with our Express Store Starter Kit.

We estimated the number of pregnant healthcare workers at Covid-19 hospitals at 1,000. Of course, this figure is hugely underestimated, but we have to prioritise our resources based on the budget we set. In the event that all sets are redeemed before the cut-off date and demand is greater than expected, we may launch a second round of redemptions.

Are there more plans in the pipeline to help female healthcare workers?

Hegen Cares is a year-long effort, so all our resources will be focussed on helping pregnant frontliners. Right now, we’ve got just over a dozen hospitals on the beneficiary list, namely government restructured hospitals and community hospitals directly treating Covid-19 cases. But we are seriously considering expanding the list to other medical institutions. 

 

How much family support did you get? Your parents have been in the mother and baby care industry for over 30 years — did their entrepreneurial spirit rub off on you growing up?

My father’s primary belief is that everything that we do is to nurture the next generation. So, from our organisational structure to the products we create, everything we do is with that mission in mind. When it was time to consider developing my own brand, he told me firmly, “It’s time for you to venture out. I’ve got your back.” Even though at that time I had no idea what I wanted to create, what to call the brand, and how we would make a difference in the industry, it was the most reassuring statement I ever heard. With this newfound confidence, I knew I could bravely step out and change the world.
 
What was the best business advice they offered you?

1. Never underestimate the importance of continual learning.
2. Stay hungry but humble.

3. Always remember to give back — pay it forward.
 
What do awards and accolades mean to you?

Awards and accolades are both an affirmation and motivation for us to push forward even further. Not only will the award give us an extra boost of credibility, it is also an invaluable calling card in our search for like-minded partners to work with, internationally. They say that it is not the destination but the journey that counts. Awards and accolades will be remembered as the milestones in my entrepreneurial journey. 
 
Where do you want to take Hegen to?

Over the next five years, Hegen has identified new business models and directions that would continue to change the way we interact and deliver our promise to our customers. As part of our expansion strategy, we’ve identified 35 international markets to enter by 2022. Even though the current Covid-19 situation has certainly slowed our progress, we continue to remain true to our promise: To serve mothers all over the world.