SMU Cox Entrepreneur Begins New Venture After Life-Altering Experience with SIDS (SMU COX Today Magazine)

SMU Cox Entrepreneur Begins New Venture After Life-Altering Experience with SIDS

Bill Darnell (Cox BBA ’98) has a talent for start-up ventures.  While still in college, he founded Zoobee Inc., a manufacturer of watches featuring photographs by world renowned nature and animal photographer, Art Wolfe, that were stocked in virtually every zoo in the United States, Disney's Animal Kingdom and the Endangered Species retail chain.

Bill was featured in Entrepreneur magazine in 1999 as a “Rising Star” and again in 2001 for his successful and unique marketing techniques.  Following the company’s triumphant launch, Zoobee began manufacturing and distributing watches designed to teach children how to tell time. Zoobee trademarked “Time Teaching Watches by Zoobee” and sold the watches at more than 30,000 toy stores, gift shops, and school supply stores across America, as well as online through Amazon.com.

Then, time stood still for Bill and his wife, Cheryl (Rohloff), when their five-month son, Billy, fell victim to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  There were no warning signs and no explanations, only the devastating realization that their healthy, happy baby boy was full of life one day and found lifeless in his crib the next.

Zoobee was put on hold with plans to resume in the near future. The Darnells decided to channel their grief toward helping other families also dealing with SIDS by founding SIDS America (www.sidsamerica.org). 

SIDS America is dedicated to bringing hope, help and healing to families who have experienced the death of a child through SIDS by offering an array of support and services from grief support and counseling to help with funeral/burial costs for the child.  The Web site offers a wealth of resources about SIDS, including risk factors and preventive measures, as well as a state-by-state directory of local SIDS resources.

SIDS America was founded on what would have been Billy’s first birthday.  To date, the organization has been able to offer financial and emotional support to numerous families as far away as Oregon and New York, who have lost a child to SIDS in the past year.

Support has included paying for families' funeral, burial, grave marker and emergency medical expenses; purchasing trees in memory of a child; offering a SIDS support group that meets bi-monthly; buying families dinner, a cup of coffee and meeting in their home; connecting them with other SIDS families; and countless hours of e-mail and phone calls to encourage and emotionally support them in their grief.

“Serving these families is humbling, purposeful, life-changing and life-giving,” said Bill.  “Having experienced it ourselves, we know that lifting that financial burden, as well as meeting them right where they are at emotionally and spiritually helps them grieve more freely and effectively.  It’s rewarding to see peoples’ lives change because of something you created, identified as a need and sacrificed to make happen.”

While SIDS America is currently staffed solely by Bill and Cheryl and many volunteers, they hope to add three or four more employees over the next year, including an events/volunteer coordinator, grant writing consultant and administrative assistants.  Bill is also focused on raising between $250K - $500K from angel investors who would see their return on investment as one not measured monetarily, but by the number of lives that would be changed due to their investment in SIDS America.

With SIDS claiming the lives of eight babies a day in America alone, it is Bill and Cheryl’s goal to grow SIDS America to be in a position to offer financial and emotional support to all 3,000 families a year impacted by SIDS.  They also hope to be able to effectively promote SIDS America as the leading online national resource and nonprofit for families impacted by SIDS, thus increasing awareness and hopefully finding a cure one day.

“While we wish there wasn’t a need for this ministry, we are thankful that God has called us to raise awareness about SIDS prevention and offer hope to grieving families,” said Bill and Cheryl.  “Our prayer is that with ongoing support, our mission will be so successful that SIDS America will be able to close its doors forever.”