Susan Clayton, founder of WhitePaws RunMitts, came up with the idea of creating a patented thumbless convertible mitten designed for outdoor sports because she wanted to keep her hands cozy while supporting the homeless in Baltimore. The native Baltimorean and avid runner desired a solution.
“I used to be a coach for an organization called Back on My Feet. We would run at 5:30 in the morning and we ran in all kinds of weather. In the winter, I could never find the right mitten or glove that kept my hands warm,” Clayton said.
Back on My Feet is a nonprofit that helps individuals who are homeless to commit to running three early mornings each week. While setting goals, the members ultimately attend financial literacy classes and job skills training for the purpose of gaining employment and housing resources.
Clayton’s participation as a volunteer with Back on My Feet led to her decision to knit prototypes for her mittens. She observed a friend running with a pair of socks on his hands one day. Clayton took the initiative to find another option to keep her hands cozy.
“We did some prototypes with knitted, and fleece-lined, and they seem to work. So, I just on a whim decided to call a patent attorney and see if they can be patented. Three years later, I was awarded a patent for the design,” Clayton said.
The entrepreneur started her business called WhitePaws RunMitts in 2016. For the first couple of years, Clayton primarily sold the running mittens on her website, at holiday pop ups, and racing expos because WhitePaws RunMitts were geared toward runners. Clayton’s side hustle began to blossom. She found herself trying to figure out cash flow, manufacturing needs, and supply chain issues. She needed to fulfill her biggest order with Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI). It is an outdoor gear and apparel retailer and co-op. Last year, REI began carrying Susan’s patented mittens in four stores. Clayton is currently expanding to provide her product to 80 of them.
While diving into new territory, the Baltimore-based entrepreneur became part of GoDaddy’s Empower Baltimore cohort. GoDaddy has gained recognition for providing services to assist businesses with online tools. Impact Hub Baltimore— a nonprofit supporting entrepreneurs— launched a partnership with Empower by GoDaddy in February 2022.
Clayton’s riveting journey kept unfolding. She was highlighted in season four of GoDaddy’s award-winning episodic docuseries called Made in America.
“We aim to inspire people with the true stories of entrepreneurs and intentionally focus on the disparity in opportunities and access to resources for underserved communities. We do this as part of our commitment to and belief that entrepreneurship should be inclusive for all,” GoDaddy reported online.
In episode two of the docuseries, Clayton’s success story as an Empower participant in Baltimore shows her persevering through hurdles to do business with REI.
Another positive twist of Clayton’s story entails winning a grand prize total of $27,500 during the Crab Tank Startup Pitch Competition at Amplify 2022. It was sponsored by M&T Bank for the purpose of spotlighting Baltimore’s small to medium businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs.
Empower by GoDaddy enabled Clayton to improve online tools for her company, including the website that she built independently. She mentioned that it is cleaner and easier for people to purchase WhitePaws RunMitts online.
“I learned about search engine optimization; Google analysis; and I also connected with a lot of other business owners in the Baltimore area who were struggling like me. It was hard finding that ecosystem where you had people who were in the same space as you,” Clayton said.
She added that she learned a lot from fellow business owners.
According to GoDaddy, Made in America was created alongside their social impact program called Empower by GoDaddy. A GoDaddy Open event concluded with a private screening of GoDaddy’s Made in America Season 4 docuseries that was held at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre in Baltimore on Oct. 19, 2022. It brought all the programs together to highlight GoDaddy’s investment in Baltimore’s entrepreneurial community. The in-person affair extended training opportunities to more Baltimore entrepreneurs.
Clayton remarked that her experience as an Empower by GoDaddy graduate helped to educate consumers about the struggles related to creation of her product.
“Being a part of Made in America, being a part of Impact Hub, I’ve been able to reach my consumers so they can see the behind the scenes of how it’s not easy just starting a business,” Clayton said, also mentioning the value of the documentary. “I’m glad my story is inspiring other people.”
See the Made in America episode via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_uB1Z-0KrI. Visit https://runmitts.com/ to learn more about WhitePaws RunMitts and https://www.godaddy.com/godaddy-for-good/empower to learn more about Empower by GoDaddy. There is currently a pause onboarding new Empower by GoDaddy participants. Interested Baltimore City based business owners are being encouraged to sign up for the newsletter via https://baltimore.impacthub.net to stay tuned for announcements and opportunities in 2023.