In this podcast, Ramon Ray chats with Maria Dellapina, owner of Specs4Us, a company that creates specialty glasses for people, especially children, with Down syndrome.
Maria Dellapina is the creator of Specs4Us and is a single mother whose youngest child has Down syndrome. When her daughter needed glasses, Maria couldn’t find any that fit her comfortably. So Maria created her own frames, using her optical background, that would cater to the Down syndrome face.
Today, the company sells glasses to 28 different countries directly through optical centers. Through the use of SCORE, Dellapina got second opinions and useful advice that helped her business get to the place it is today.
I have an amazing entrepreneur with us today, and we're going to learn all about her business, how she's grown it, and I think some tips and insights she's going to share with us. Maria, welcome to the SCORE Small Business Success Podcast.
Thank you, Ramon. Thank you for having me.
You're welcome. Tell us a bit about yourself, Maria. You're an entrepreneur, a small business owner, and then tell us a bit about Specs4Us, where we people can find out about it, Specs, the number 4, Specs4Us.
Yes, thank you. I'm a single mom of four children. My youngest daughter has Down syndrome. I have a background in optical, worked in all phases of the optical industry, from working in setting up superstores to working in the private practice and doing business, therapy, lab work, different ideas like that, so when my daughter was about the age of two and needed glasses, I thought I could find the perfect pair for her, but that wasn't quite the case.
Typical glasses, because of the special facial features of individuals with Down syndrome, which is like low bridges, small, inset eyes, smaller set ears, wider temples, a typical frame design that has a high bridge placement seems to drop on their faces and not fit properly, so they don't like to wear them.
I was looking at the frame itself and thought, "Wow, if we just moved these certain parts around, the frame would sit up on my daughter's face and she could actually be looking through the optical center of the glasses." With comfort and ease and a proper fit, they enjoy wearing them more.
Awesome, and that's important. I think it's interesting you said that. We forget. I remember, Maria, when I first got my glasses, it was the most horrific, miserable day of my entire life. That's a slight exaggeration because I've gone through other things beyond when I was a child, but I cried and cried and cried and thought I was a nerd and all kind of things. I don't know if you've gone through that with the children you've helped over the years, but is that a common problem with all children, they just hate their first pair of glasses in some cases?
It can take some adjustment to get used to them, but especially if they're not fitting right. A lot of the glasses that they tend to try on the kids with Down syndrome I think tend to have more of a therapeutic look. I think glasses should look like an accessory and not a necessity.
That is so true, very smart. Tell us a little about how you started it out, Maria, meaning as small business owners, I think it's hard to get a website up, get inventory, manufacturing, it needs funding, and there's so many things we can talk about, but can you give us an overview, just from day one you realized, "Huh, I can make some adjustments." How did you turn this from a need just for one child, your daughter, to an industry, to being a company? How did that transition happen?
I ran into all the problems you mentioned, believe me. I started with just a drawing. I threw out my frame. Like I said, with my extensive background in optical, I had done everything but get a frame made. Luckily, I mean, this was back in 2004, incorporated the idea, made a generic website up, but didn't know how to proceed to get this frame itself, so I actually reached out to some individuals that I knew in the optical industry, that they would maybe present it to their, the companies they worked with, and I kept getting that there wasn't enough of a need for this frame, but I knew, 87 percent of the individuals with Down syndrome wear glasses by preschool, and there's well over half a million people in the United States with Down syndrome alone, and that's just the United States, not even the world, that there was a need for that frame.
I finally did find a manufacturer that made me a demo frame for a sample, and when I got that frame and showed it on my daughter, it was an immediate difference. I could tell this is, I'm onto something, this is going to work, and this is what they need, but then like you mentioned, where was I going to get the funding for this?
For more, click play on the video above to listen to the full podcast, and download the transcript.