Alana Piper is the founder of Seed & Spark, a social enterprise that aims to give mums of young kids a chance to pursue their own interests, by offering a wide range of courses and classes with a built-in nanny service. Originally piloted in the Inner West, Seed & Spark is now expanding to Sydney East, the North Shore and Ryde.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a career woman, entrepreneur, daughter, wife, and mum of two living in Lilyfield. My two beautiful, enormous half-Dutch boys (one and four years) are the light of my life, sharing that honour with my equally beautiful, enormous Dutch husband. Like many modern mums, I juggle family with my business and a full-time corporate job, which means I’m always on the go. But I wouldn’t have it any other way – the way I see it, my life is bursting at the seams with things I love. And as we say in our household, there’s always time for a cuddle!
What did you do prior to starting Seed & Spark?
I’ve had quite a varied career, encompassing academia, consulting, events and corporate communications. My parents are both academics, and I’m passionate about education, so at first I thought I wanted to follow that path. I was fortunate enough to spend four years at Oxford University, emerging with both a PhD in History and a husband! I then worked in consulting in the Netherlands for several years before returning to my hometown of Sydney and creating a series of high-profile business events for the Australian Financial Review. In addition to running Seed & Spark, I now work full-time as Communications Director at a global law firm.
What inspired you to establish Seed & Spark?
Desperation! My first son was a very difficult baby (read: he didn’t sleep!), and like one in five new mothers, I suffered from postnatal depression. I had naively dreamed that maternity leave would be an opportunity to pursue some creative interests, but the reality of looking after a colicky, chronically overtired bub was that I had no time at all to attend to my own wants or needs. With my second son, the early months were easier, but I still felt keenly the isolation, the exhaustion and the loss of self that comes with looking after young children at home. I realised how desperately I wanted an activity that was just for me – an opportunity to learn something new and feel like myself again, in an environment that was truly mum-and-baby-friendly. I couldn’t find it, so I created it!
What do you offer?
We offer fun, creative and educational short courses on a wide range of topics, each designed especially for mums with babies and toddlers in tow. Every class comes with a dedicated nanny service, fully equipped with toys and craft activities, so the mums can focus, relax and enjoy some creative me-time! Courses include things like floristry, interior design, cake decorating, sewing, photography, drawing, creative writing, negotiation skills, languages and more. We’re a social enterprise, so we pursue growth over profit, and make sure we give back to the communities we touch.
What can customers expect from Seed & Spark?
Our customers can expect a relaxed, down-to-earth and supportive environment, full of like-minded local mums. Our teachers know just how to pace their material to allow for necessary breaks, and our nannies are pros at engaging and soothing bubs as young as six weeks. The best thing about it is the vibe – everyone is just so happy and grateful to be there, to be having a break and feeling like themselves again! It’s a wonderfully positive and uplifting thing to be involved in.
What is the most inspiring experience you have heard from a customer?
We’ve gotten so much inspiring feedback! We’ve had mums who came to us in the grips of PND who say it’s been their lifeline – something to look forward to each week, with a new group of friends thrown in too. A lot of mums have found it has built their confidence to start engaging with the outside world again. And it’s also incredible what our mums have been able to achieve. We’ve seen people discover real talents, with many going on to a higher level of study. One of our cake-decorating students joined us so she could make her own wedding cake, and she has now opened her own cake business!
As a mum, what advice do you have for new parents?
Make it a priority to feed your own mind, body and soul. Raising tiny humans is unbelievably rewarding, but it can also be exhausting, draining and, dare I say it, often incredibly tedious. Giving birth doesn’t give you a lobotomy, or remove the passion, the drive, the intellectual curiosity, the creativity that make you who you are. Make time to nurture your own interests and I promise you’ll be a better parent for it too!
Favourite places in the Inner West?
What’s not to love? A perfect weekend for us might involves the organic markets at Orange Grove, a trip to Chinatown or pizza lunch in Haberfield, and a bike ride around Jubilee Park concluding with a few scoops of Gelato Messina at Tramsheds – although if you ask my husband, Wayward and Akasha Breweries might also feature prominently! The best thing about the Inner West though, is the people – we’re so lucky to be surrounded by so many clever, compassionate and down-to earth folk!