By Amanda Kuhnert
When Steve Singiser was a child on Long Island, his grandmother gave him a teddy bear that she made on her antique Singer sewing machine. The bear was soft, flat, and very huggable. He named him Flatty. Over the years, Flatty traveled with Singiser wherever he went, eventually making his way to Mendon, Vermont, where Singiser settled with his wife and family in the mid 1970s.
Singiser and his daughter, Cynthia, often talked about starting a family business that would enable them to put Flatty into the hands of children everywhere, especially those in need. But Singiser was daunted by the challenge of finding a way to create a safe, quality product at the right price point.
But in 2021, as he approached retirement, Singiser doubled down on his search for a manufacturer. “I wanted to stay busy doing something that is challenging, will give me pleasure, and brings joy to others,” said Singiser, who turned 85 this year. As the pandemic waned on, he felt that, more than ever, children needed a Flatty in their lives.
Bringing an idea to fruition
Singiser joined forces with his wife and daughter to bring their shared vision to life. Together, they found Bears for Humanity, a plush toy manufacturer that was able to produce a replica of the original Flatty Bear, ethically and at a reasonable cost. Their products are made by hand in fair-trade facilities using organic cotton purchased from small co-op farmers.
After creating a prototype and placing his first order, Singiser reached out to Nancy Shuttleworth, an advisor with the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC), for help with a product launch plan.
“Her advice, assistance, and experience has been invaluable in getting my nonprofit, Flatty Bear, Inc., off the ground,” Singiser said. “Nancy has a wealth of knowledge with start-ups to share. Very importantly, she has provided names of individuals with particular talents who have been useful to me.”
Shuttleworth connected Singiser with a web designer and marketing agency. “There are many moving pieces,” Shuttleworth said. “I meet with Steve and the marketing agency on a regular basis to review the progress and strategize for next steps.”
On June 2,2022, the first two boxes of Flatty Bears arrived at Singiser’s home in Mendon, Vermont. “Seeing the crate finally unloaded from the delivery truck really brought home that Flatty Bear, my constant companion in childhood, is about to become a companion for children everywhere,” Singiser said.
Flatty Bear is a charitable organization. For every Flatty Bear the Singiser family sells, they donate an identical bear to Save the Children. They also offer a 2-for-1 discount to any charities that would like to purchase bears directly. For more info: flattybear.org.
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