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BabbaCo, parent-focused start-up with new HQ in Boston, wants to mail you activity boxes

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 19, 2011 10:44 AM

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jkim1.jpgBabbaCo, a Chicago start-up that targets parents of young kids, moved its headquarters to Boston earlier this month as the result of a long-running economic development initiative that brings all kinds of talented people to the Bay State: the founder's spouse landed a job at a top Boston hospital.

Jessica Kim raised $1.2 million for the company just last month, and the very first of its BabbaBoxes began shipping last week. (Boston's NextView Ventures was among the investors in BabbaCo.)

What's a BabbaBox? It's a collection of activities geared to three- to six-year old children that you can order a la carte, or have sent to your house on a monthly basis. "The concept is that we work with preschool educators to select what goes in and develop activities, and the boxes will be customized to the age of your child," Kim says. A single box costs $30; an annual subscription is $300. Though Kim is now based in Boston, five other BabbaCo employees still work from Chicago.

jkim2.jpgThe sample box she showed me had an insect theme. It included craft materials to make a ladybug and a butterfly — and learn about their anatomy in the process. There was a plastic magnifying jar, intended for collecting bugs and inspecting them up close, and a hardcover book called "Earl the Earthworm Digs for His Life" (signed by the author.) There were coloring sheets about butterflies, and an iTunes Store credit for a specific app — Paint My Wings — that works on iPads or iPhones. Plus, there's always a small gift inside for the mom. (This box, appropriately, included some lip balm from Burt's Bees.)

"We include everything you need for the activities, too," Kim says. "I'm a busy mom, and I hate the 'batteries not included' thing." She emphasizes that the BabbaCo team strives to include products that most families won't already own: "The book we send you will never be 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar.' Everyone seems to have three copies of that already." Kim has two children, ages four-and-a-half and nineteen months. (Her husband is a hand surgeon at Beth Israel.)

While Kim just arrived in town, and just banked more than a million bucks, she has been having some introductory conversations with local VCs. "We know competitors are coming out, so I've been talking to a couple VCs now, just to know what our options are," she says. Kim seems like she's expecting some sharp elbows in the market for selling kids activities by subscription.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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