At first glance, Zachary Jackson looks like any other healthy eight-year-old. But along with being a typical kid, Zachary is also a CIO—Chief Inspiration Officer—for his mother’s company, Zakeez, Inc. now Nurtured By Design.
Born three months early and weighing less than two pounds, Zachary needed all the help the Texas Medical Center in Houston could provide during those critical early months. But the key to his survival was the comfort of simply being held gently by his mother Yamile.
Because she couldn’t stay with her son 24/7, Yamile began looking for a way to maintain a sense of contact with Zachary. Applying her instincts as both a mother and an engineer, Yamile adapted a pair of garden gloves to serve as her “surrogate” hands, duplicating her touch, warmth and scent. Realizing that thousands of other mothers faced the same challenges with their “preemies” and other special needs children, Yamile began looking for ways to transform her makeshift gloves into a marketable product.
Three years of ergonomics human factors research later, Yamile had crafted the appropriately named “Zaky®,” which would benefit both preemies and healthy babies alike. What she needed next was some help in spreading the word about her innovation.
“I had already operated a business as a consulting engineer,” Yamile says, “but going from a service to a product, especially one related to medicine, was a huge transformation.”
The Zaky and its amazing story have earned worldwide coverage in newspapers and magazines, televised news reports and programs such as The Rachel Ray Show, and even a made-for-TV movie. Yamile has been repeatedly honored for the Zaky, including receiving SCORE’s Outstanding Woman-Owned Business Award for 2009.
Zachary Jackson continues to do his job as CIO, as his mother is introducing new products such as specialty clothing for preemies that accommodate IV tubes and cables for medical devices, and bereavement clothes for babies unable to overcome their survival challenge.
Zakeez continues to thrive today, thanks to broadband. Because more than 80 percent of sales are completed online, broadband is critical to the company’s success. Not only does it help Yamile accomplish everyday tasks and streamline research, she is also using it to take online courses and leverage new and improved ways to communicate with customers.
“Broadband is not a luxury, it is essential for my business,” says Yamile Jackson, founder, Zakeez, Inc. “Because our resources are limited, it is important to be efficient in how we distribute advertisements, news, and sales efforts to a wide audience. Broadband also allows me to reach customers around the world, conduct web conferencing and keep an eye on my competition. It allows me to save time, compare prices and create efficiencies when I purchase from vendors online.”
Houston SCORE mentor Sam Dubinsky advised Yamile on preparing for her first trade show, while other mentors helped her craft an effective marketing strategy that included brochures, publicity, and an online presence at www.zakeez.com.
More recently, retired engineer Bob Ashfield provided Yamile with a valuable technical perspective on her new products, including Zak’s Sack, which capitalizes on the concept of “kangarooing” to help both mothers and fathers nurture their infants by keeping them in close physical contact.
“Sam and Bob are very generous with their time and the information they have,” she says. “I truly feel that they genuinely get pleasure from my success. How appropriate it is that for a product designed to help nurture new and small babies, I have received so much help from a group of professionals dedicated to nurturing new and small businesses.”
After seeing a flyer about a Houston SCORE-sponsored seminar on business start-ups, Yamile attended thinking it’d be a “one-shot” experience. “But as I listened to the mentors,” she says, “I realized there was a wealth of information and resources that SCORE could provide.”
“What I really like about SCORE is that they don’t make decisions for me,” Yamile says. “They’ll tell you what they know, point out other sources of information, and make suggestions. But they leave it up to me to decide.”