Published November 1, 2021 at 2:28pm
Interview by Mary Martin. Photos courtesy of Kelly Mumphrey.
As a Navy veteran, mother, and entrepreneur, Kelli Mumphrey is used to being on the go. But when it came to breastfeeding and pumping when her daughter was an infant, she recognized the huge gap in safe, clean, spaces that are dedicated to nursing mothers. Now Kelli is the CEO of MilkSpace LLC, a business that provides outdoor public space operators and event organizers with a pop-up canopy lactation space to address the gap in outdoor breastfeeding amenity solutions. Kelli is also developing a Mobile MilkSpace fleet to deliver premium mobile breastfeeding solutions for outdoor public space operators and event organizers, while advocating for breastfeeding education and support in the Black community.
Tell us a bit about your early days growing up in Virginia and what led to you joining the Navy.
I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, but was a new student in various states nine times all before the 11th grade due to my mother serving 20 years in the United States Army. Although I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, the longest place I’ve lived prior to making Texas my home, was Prince George’s County, Maryland. Living in so many places, I never felt attachment or a sense of true belonging in those places. Despite the frequency of adjusting to new surroundings, one thing remained constant . . . the love I have for my place of birth, Portsmouth, Virginia! Whenever, I touch down in Portsmouth, Virginia it simply feels different. It feels like happiness and love. Virginia’s slogan is Virginia is for lovers . . . and I always feel loved when I am in the 757.
After graduating from Largo High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, I attended Virginia State University (V.S.U.). During my sophomore year, I took an ROTC leadership class with no intentions of joining the military. Little did I know, the military was in my future! Graduating from V.S.U. a semester late (December 2008), I returned to Maryland in pursuit of a career, but was unsuccessful in my pursuits as this was a time during a recession. Out of desperation and frustration, I hastily enlisted in the military. Looking back, I can honestly say, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
What was it like transitioning into civilian life with your husband and daughter? What challenges did you experience?
Serving active duty in the United States Navy as a Master-At-Arms, I felt secure, a sense of belonging, and a sense of purpose. However, when faced with the tough decision to complete a mandatory one-year deployment overseas without my 11-month-old daughter, I chose to separate. Immediately after separating in January of 2014, my husband and I jammed packed our Chevy Equinox with our most important belongings along with our 11-month-old and made the twenty-three-hour road trip to Dallas with full of excitement about what was next as my husband was expected to report to his new job! Unfortunately, the excitement was very short lived as the job offer was rescinded due to the employer wanting my husband to have a bachelor’s degree.
With a baby, no job, couch-surfing with family, and expecting another little one that same year, we both knew it was GRIND TIME! For the next three years we immersed ourselves in an all work, no play routine that consisted of us both attending school, full-time government employment, and me committing weekends as a Navy Reservist assigned to Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth. Although we have accomplished so much as a family, we are still in GRIND TIME mode. We have yet to experience a family vacation as we are focused on laying the foundation in creating a prosperous and fulfilled life for ourselves.
Describe the moment you knew that MilkSpace was a solution you needed to pursue.
Always on the go, I found myself in situations where I would resort to pumping and dumping my breastmilk in public restrooms or other places, I felt were unsanitary spaces. Frustrated by the lack of access to convenient and sanitary spaces to express breastmilk while away from home, in 2018 while still employed with the government, I created MilkSpace, LLC to provide event planners with a service solution to accommodate nursing women during events. I was excited about my new business, yet again, my excitement would be short lived.
In 2019, we experienced two miscarriages and my battle with my mental and physical health intensified. Filled with so many emotions, I wrote a five page letter to God. The words in the beginning of that letter were words of anger, sorrow, and confusion. The very end of that letter were words of clarity and comfort. Writing the letter revealed to me tomorrow is not promised, and I decided to take a leap of faith to leave my comfortable government career to pursue entrepreneurship to better align my energy with my talents and the true desires of my heart.
What does it feel like when someone walks into a MilkSpace at an event?
MilkSpace, LLC is currently offers a “Pop-Up MilkSpace” service in the form of an 8×8 private canopy for event operators as an optional lactation space for nursing mothers to use while attending their events. When women walk into the MilkSpace, it is designed to make women feel relaxed, appreciated, and empowered to do what’s natural in a clean and welcoming environment, away from distraction, enabling women to be fully present in the moment. They are able to focus their bodies, and their babies (if present).
How is MilkSpace addressing the disparities and inequities that face Black women who are breastfeeding?
COVID-19 presented me with a tough decision whether to continue to work on getting MilkSpace, LLC off the ground during a time when people are literally suffering, or to close the business completely. As we know, COVID-19 has, and still is having, a direct or indirect impact on everyone, where overwhelmingly data reflects minorities as being disproportionately impacted by the virus. Two things were pulling on my heart that impacted my decision-making process, 1) To devise a solution where I could make life a little less stressful for any breastfeeding woman on the go during Covid-19, and 2) Address breastfeeding disparities in Black women with MilkSpace, LLC!
With these two things on my heart, I decided to create a product; MilkSpace Kits filled with breastfeeding essentials that focus on convenience and sanitation. To make an impact serving Black low-income women, I created a social impact initiative, “Match It 4 HER!”, with a goal to lessen breastfeeding disparities in Black women by forming collaborative partnerships with community-based organizations and for-profit entities to donate and distribute MilkSpace Kits to Black low-income women! My current partners are Mama Love and MilkStrip.
I am actively seeking nonprofits and sponsors for either sponsor MilkSpace Kits, and/or MilkSpace event service hours for any event(s) held in Dallas County, with a special emphasis on events held in underserved communities with a high-population of Black-low-income women.
MilkSpace recently won the Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center’s 4th Annual National Business Women’s Week Conference Pitch Competition. How is that support inspiring you and what does it make possible for your organization in 2022?
Winning the competition added fuel to my flame! As a non-Texas native, the win showed me my community supports me, and there are people who understand the need for MilkSpace, LLC that genuinely wants to see MilkSpace, LLC succeed. The journey leading up to the competition has been very rough filled with more “Nos” than Yes”, yet the win came at a perfect time to catapult the business forward on a path leading to the grand vision for MilkSpace, LLC. Taking home the first place $20,000 will enable MilkSpace, LLC to develop the very first Mobile MilkSpace to support the Mobile MilkSpace Fleet operating as a premium public-use lactation service for outdoor events held in Dallas County beginning Spring, 2022.
If someone is interested in bringing a MilkSpace to their event, what is the first step?
Event planners can “Schedule an Event Consultation” with me to discuss the details of their event. Once the Event Consultation is complete, event planners can “Request a MilkSpace” for their desired event(s).
Interested sponsors can “Schedule a Sponsorship Meeting of the Minds” to discuss sponsoring MilkSpace to service upcoming events or MilkSpace Kits to be distributed to Black, low-income women.