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Father Knows Business

Move over, mom. These entrepreneurial dads prove they know a thing or two about babies--and business.

When Greg Bishop dreamed up the idea for a father-to-be boot camp in 1990, the fatherhood industry was uncharted territory.

"One of the fundamental problems at that point and still today is that there's no media channel directed at fathers," Bishop says. "The entire world of babies is fully directed toward mothers."

From specialized fitness classes to designer maternity jeans to extravagant "push presents," the mommy market is saturated. So where does that leave dads?

That question prompted Bishop, 57, to begin conducting boot camp workshops at a local hospital. Six years later, he transformed his hobby into a nationwide organization, now known as Boot Camp for New Dads.

The goal of boot camp is to help new dads become comfortable caring for their babies, supporting their spouses and making the transition into fatherhood. So far, Boot Camp for New Dads, based in Irvine, California, has expanded into 43 states and England and Australia, graduating some 200,000 fathers in about 18 years.

To support this program, Bishop founded the nonprofit New Fathers Foundation and a for-profit company, Dads Adventure Inc., in 1995. Through Dads Adventure, Bishop, a father of four, writes and publishes books and a magazine for dads-to-be. He also maintains a website offering new dads advice and resources. Bishop and his wife, Alison, who works for Dads Adventure full-time, have invested about $1.5 million in Boot Camp for New Dads.

The Daddy Movement
The fatherhood market is slowly picking up momentum as home based dads become more common. The U.S. Census Bureau reported an estimated 159,000 stay-at-home dads in 2007, up from 143,000 in 2006.

"I think what you're seeing is a fatherhood movement that's mostly based in guys' hearts, who want to be closer to their kids than their own father was with them," Bishop says.

Diaper Dude founder Chris Pegula, 36, is part of that movement.

"The role is changing dramatically," Pegula says.

Los Angeles-based Diaper Dude was founded on Father's Day 2003. At the time, Pegula, an actor and stay-at-home dad, knew he wanted to share the experience of raising his children with his wife. But he quickly realized that plan didn't include carrying an ultra-feminine diaper bag.

"My wife came home with a dozen diaper bags. I thought, 'No way I'm wearing these. They're way too feminine!' " Pegula says.

Originally, Pegula set out to create a bag for himself. But once he received positive responses from other dads, Pegula knew he was onto something.

The company has evolved from specializing in one messenger-style diaper bag into a lifestyle brand that exceeded the $1 million mark in 2007. From camouflage bottle holders to funky stroller straps to stylish blankets, Pegula has introduced other functional products designed with daddy in mind.

"My goal is to help dads transition into fatherhood with confidence and style," Pegula says.

The Diaper Dude himself adds his voice to the website with his "Ask the Dude" section and has plans to create a community forum dads can access for advice and support.

Pegula thanks his three children for his new full-time job.

"They're the inspiration behind what I do," he says.

Like Pegula, Bishop says his daddy-focused organizations were never part of his master plan.

"I was a stay-at-home dad for seven years as my second through fourth babies arrived," he says. "So I was very fortunate to be there a lot, and I attribute that to why I did this."

Daddy Moonlighting
These days, it's not just stay-at-home dads who are reinventing the role of fatherhood. More and more working dads are also becoming engaged in the parenting process.

"A lot of the guys I know and hang out with are participatory dads. They're all really involved in the burping process and changing diapers," Mike Barclay, 36, says.

By day, Barclay is a full-time dean of students at a private school in Providence, Rhode Island. By night, he's a husband, father of two and co-founder of Burp Armor, a twist on the traditional burp cloth. Unlike regular burp cloths, Burp Armor has a kidney bean shape and shoulder flap design that protects a parent's shoulder and upper arm from baby's many messes.

Barclay first came up with the idea for the comfortable and durable design of the cloth two years ago after a spit-up-filled night with his son, Greer. The next morning, figuring he wasn't the only parent to have dealt with multiple clothing changes after messy feedings, Barclay began sketching designs on his children's large drawing pad.

After selecting a design, Barclay got the stamp of approval from his wife and Burp Armor co-founder, Kristin, also 36, and began the process of creating a sample. After tweaking aspects of the design, the Barclays finally settled on what they say is the perfect combination of materials: two layers of certified organic cotton and hemp fleece, along with a third layer of organic cotton and hemp corduroy. The additional layers make the Burp Armor three times more absorbent than the average burp cloth.

By January 2008, Barclay and his wife, a website director by day, launched their website and began selling their product. So far, Burp Armor isn't profitable, but Barclay says the company is well on its way.

"It's a Barclay venture," he explains. "It's a huge risk. We took a portion of our family savings to start this. But it's worth it."

Mike and Kristin's ultimate goals are to become profitable within the next year and to turn Burp Armor into both of their full-time jobs.

So far, dads constitute a majority of Burp Armor's customers.

"There's a cool factor to it since it was inspired by a dad," Barclay says.

But aside from the cool factor, Barclay points out the hurdles he's faced in getting attention for his product.

"There aren't as many places to go for dads who design products," he says. "You're kind of on your own."

The Boys' Club
Though the daddy market is still relatively underserved, Bishop, Pegula and Barclay are making a noticeable dent. They're giving a voice to dads across the globe and proving that fathers should be just as celebrated as their female counterparts.

"We want to provide support and inspiration to dads and encourage them to jump in 100 percent," Pegula says.

This Father's Day, all three entrepreneurs plan on celebrating with the people who made their ambitions possible--their children. For Pegula and Barclay, it's all about enjoying a day with the family, minus business distractions. For Bishop, the day will be spent in true dad fashion.

"I plan on sitting in my brand new hammock, and my kids will bring me breakfast. It'll be a wonderful day," Bishop says.

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