Enterprising alumna dispenses convenience to growing families.
When Erica Harris graduated from UC Davis in 2008, she had a degree in clinical nutrition, an interest in business, and a passion for caring for people and the environment.
She wasn’t sure how to put it all together until one day in 2010 when she attended an acquaintance’s cheerleading competition in Pasadena. She was in the restroom when a commotion occurred.
“There was a baby with a funky diaper, and her frantic mother had no more diapers in the bag,” Harris recalls. “She ended up having to rig one out of paper towels. I said to myself, ‘There needs to be a vending machine for this.’ I went back to my seat and wrote my idea on a napkin.”
A few years and a lot of hard work later, Harris is now CEO and founder of Happy Baby Vending Inc., an eco-friendly company headquartered in Altadena, California, that sells diapers, nutritious snacks, and other baby supplies through vending machines and online at happybabyvending.com.
“UC Davis definitely helped me get to where I am today,” Harris says. “The courses, the connections, my interest in good nutrition and sustainability—it all happened at UC Davis.”
At UC Davis, Harris met Happy Baby Vending’s chief creative officer Dennis Robinson, who graduated in 2008 with a degree in graphic design.
Harris was born and raised in Compton, Calif. As an incoming freshman, she considered studying engineering.
But during her sophomore year, Harris took “Nutrition 10,” a popular nutrition course taught by Liz Applegate, a lecturer in the Department of Nutrition. “That class did it for me,” Harris says. “I knew I wanted to study nutrition.”
Harris has an entrepreneurial spirit. Leslie Butler, a Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, encouraged her to join the Sacramento Entrepreneurship Academy.
“The academy gave me a great foundation, and the skills I needed to design a business plan,” says Harris, who went on to found and lead the Junior Investors and Entrepreneurs group at UC Davis.
In 2012, Harris entered Happy Baby Vending into the UC Davis Graduate School of Management’s “Big Bang!” business competition. She took second place and received $4,500 in seed money.
“That gave me confidence to know I was on the right track.” Harris has installed Happy Baby vending machines in shopping malls and a children’s museum in Los Angeles. She’s now focusing on online sales for Happy Baby products, giving more parents a convenient way to raise healthy, happy kids.
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