Women Innovators Series: Anna Cerilli, Darling June
As Anna Cerilli’s 3-year-old daughter, Serena, grew taller, Cerilli realized there was a problem: Serena needed a new walker, and there weren’t viable options on the market for her.
Cerilli’s solution? Design a walker that her daughter could use, and that countless other children could benefit from as well. Cerilli first started brainstorming the idea in August of 2018, and within a year, she has taken her idea from rough sketches to a viable, working prototype. She plans that the prototype will reach the full production stage by spring of 2020.
Cerilli came to Yale on September 11th to share some of the secrets of her rapid progress as an entrepreneur and founder with the WE@Yale community as part of the Women Innovators Series, and at the Yale Center for Innovation and Design.
Cerilli was emboldened to design a walker when she saw that other options for child walkers currently on the market don’t meet the needs of many children and their families. These walkers are often too expensive, don’t provide versatile enough movement options, or don’t provide a fun user experience for children, Cerilli said.
Child walkers are often quite bulky and heavy, which tend to isolate and stigmatize children. Part of her design is making the walker lightweight, but also fun to use and look at. She pointed to the rise of brands like the Nike Flyease, which was inspired by a high school student with cerebral palsy who wrote to Nike asking if they could develop a shoe design for people who have difficulty tying shoelaces, or Billy Footwear, which are designed by a man who was paralyzed from the chest down and wanted easy access footwear to wear, as evidence that there is growing conscience around creating inclusive products.
The company Cerilli has started is called Darling June, which is the middle names of her two daughters. Darling June is registered as a public benefit corporation, which means that it has to prove a measurable social impact.
The company’s operations have already expanded to Hong Kong. Cerilli is working on nailing down the details of manufacturing the walker, and she is currently negotiating distribution to Europe including the United Kingdom, and Russia.
On top of founding Darling June, Cerilli also works full time at the Yale New Haven Hospital, where she focuses on developing and implementing patient services through incorporating the latest technological advances and data to deliver patient care. Juggling being an entrepreneur with working at a full time job and her duties as a mother can be challenging, Cerilli said, especially because there are few models from previous generations of women. “We don’t yet have the models,” she said, “but maybe we don’t need them.”
Cerilli takes a proactive approach to entrepreneurship. “In every aspect of my life, I’m just trying to do it,” she expressed. While it may not always be clear what the future will hold, she is always doing and executing, which is a key ingredient to her rapid progress.
Ultimately, Cerilli hopes to make an impact on the more than 500,000 children in the US have unmet mobility needs. Serena and her family not alone. “This isn’t my story. This is the story of so many children,” she emphasized.