St. Louis-based Tiny Superheroes sent out 35,000 capes to sick and disabled children worldwide in 2019, more than the total number sent by the company in the previous four years.
Robyn Rosenberger, founder of the social enterprise that provides superhero capes to children with illnesses or disabilities, said her company has been successful and continues to grow. Yet it began almost by accident, and in an organic way, she said.
“[In August 2012] I was working at a software company, I had just had my first kid and I wasn’t really looking for something, but I had made a superhero cape for my nephew for his birthday,” she said. “This was my first sewing project, you know? And I really liked it. So I made a cape for my son, and I made one for our dog, and I made them for just the kids in my life.”
Around that time, Rosenberger learned of a little girl named Brenna who was born in Illinois with a rare and severe skin disorder. Her parents shared her story on Facebook.
“I really locked into her story, but I was specifically really amazed that they were experiencing a very-near fatal experience with their baby in a way that was joyous and grateful,” said Rosenberger, who made and sent a cape to Brenna. “And, you know, it wasn’t overnight, but it was pretty quickly that that changed my whole life.”
Rosenberger found a variety of children who were dealing with disabilities, illnesses and diseases. A family friend of one of those kids wrote for today.com and interviewed Rosenberger for a story. That led to her appearing on the Today show.
Today, she employs seven people, who she calls her crew. Community members also help out with the program as a way of giving back, she said. She now outsources manufacturing of the capes, and she’s sent capes to approximately 60,000 children since she began the program. Recipients are chosen through nominations, and Rosenberger estimates Tiny Superheroes receives 100-200 nominations of children each day.
“The cape is like this amazing, magical thing that surprises me every day [in] how it gives families hope and courage,” Rosenberger said.
She’s designed the program to fund itself in a fairly simple way: When a child is nominated, a funding page is set up for that child on the Tiny Superheroes website. Nominated children are asked only to share the page online with friends and family for potential donations. It costs $30 to sponsor a cape, but no matter how much the child raises, that child receives a cape.
If a child’s sponsorship exceeds $30, the extra money is directed to sponsoring other children’s capes. Rosenberger also runs a program that guides activities for children to do each month in order to earn patches to put on their capes.
Rosenberger says the cape project is her passion, but fundraising just isn’t. That’s why she molded her idea into a social enterprise.
“The choice to not be a nonprofit is a really ongoing choice that you’re making, because [in] the current state of America or St. Louis, people don’t understand social enterprise very well, so the assumption is that you are a nonprofit and that you should be a nonprofit,” Rosenberger said.
My biggest mistake:
“I think that my biggest mistake is being afraid that if I don’t do it all right now that I won’t be able to do it. And I have learned — and am learning constantly the hard way — that you have to be able to focus in order to get something done. And I think that a lot of entrepreneurs have a lot of ideas and a lot of things we want to do, and I think when you’re doing something with social impact it’s even more meaningful. Spreading myself too thin to solve too many problems makes me ineffective at solving any problems. It’s giving myself the room to be patient.”