Caring for her young daughter while writing her master’s thesis on mompreneurship steered Cecilie Hammelev-Wethje in an unexpected direction.
The Danish native could have accepted Denmark’s yearlong paid parental leave. But with plans to move after graduation to L.A. with her American husband, Hammelev-Wethje researched her options for balancing motherhood and working in the U.S. “I realized I still wanted to do something besides being a mom, to contribute to my family and keep evolving,” she says.
In L.A. she networked with local mom entrepreneurs. Inspired, she founded OKO BOKS (www.okoboks.com), which translates to “organic box” in Scandinavian. The company sells natural, nontoxic luxury products for newborns include clothing, oils, bath items and toys. “They’re neutral colors, beautiful things that don’t have a gender to it,” says Hammelev-Wethje.
Capital was provided by her husband, Chris Fetner, an entertainment executive who encouraged her to start her own business. “I never thought I could be an entrepreneur and do something independently. I didn’t grow up like that and didn’t think it was an option,” says Hammelev-Wethje.
Less than a year old, OKO BOKS allows the young entrepreneur time with her daughter and a flexible work schedule. Taking a lesson from her thesis, Hammelev-Wethje is not feeling the stress of growing her business quickly. Mothers generally take a different approach than other entrepreneurs in terms of growing a business, she says. “For example, you may want slow growth for your business to sustain family.”
Her thesis also examined differences in work ethic between the U.S. and Scandinavian countries. “Denmark and Scandinavian countries can learn from the entrepreneurial spirit of the U.S. In the U.S., people are more risk takers and willing to take on a challenge,” says Hammelev-Wethje. The U.S., she adds, could do a better job of supporting women, but is improving, “not on the government level, but with individual companies.”
As she runs her business, Hammelev-Wethje is also committed to continuing the conversation about the struggle many new moms face: “Should I continue working or be a stay-at-home mom? Is there something in the middle?” she asks. “There are a lot of options and you have to make a choice that’s good for you.”