The UK’s Top Ten Business Game Changers: Sara Keel of Babycup


From Corporate Manager to Innovator and Exporter
From Flying Circus to Baby Products Disruptor!


Please let me introduce myself – I am Sara Keel, I am a mum and I am the Founder of Babycup, the parent-designed baby cup brand supporting oral health, which has already sold over half a million cups to parents and to health services at home and abroad.


My early worklife comprised of a number of jobs (including a few years as a wingwalker – standing on top of 1940’s bi-planes as they looped through the skies).


I then entered the corporate world and became a senior manager for a market-leading optical company, looking after marketing of biomedical devices, microscopes and cameras as well as working on their sponsorship in Formula One.


I’m used to looking at things from a different perspective (including upside down when hanging from the wing of an aeroplane) and have taken a much-used object – the sippy cup – and stripped it back to be ‘best for baby’ and help fight the childhood oral health epidemic.


Started in 2013, we manufacture Babycup First Cups here in the UK and are now exporting to around 30 countries.


This was a totally new direction for me – not just starting my own business but manufacturing and making my product idea come to life and then seeing it in retail stores, and with public health services, in the UK and overseas.


Babycup First Cups encourage sipping, which is best for oral health, so are recommended by dentists, loved by little ones and bought by health services here in the UK and also overseas.


Childhood oral health is the main focus for Babycup and with oral health problems being the main cause of childhood hospitalisation in England, and across much of the developed world, it is an important area for focus and improvement.


I met my husband when we were working for rival teams in Formula One, he was the first chiropractor in Formula One and I was working with trade customers and press.


A lot has happened since then – including three children and 500,000 mini open cups! These days I’m no longer on a wing or by a race track but instead you’ll find me championing healthy sipping and marketing the Babycup brand or promoting childhood health at Westminster at an All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting.


I believe one of the most progressive things we can do, in life and in business, is to question and challenge. It was this way of thinking and the natural next thought of “Can we do it better?” that prompted me to start my business.


A best-seller product, exporting around the world, and a brand that aims to do good, I am also member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood and a director of nursery brands group, NIPA Baby Ltd. Babycup’s innovation is not only in the product but the entire approach – more than just a commercial entity, my drive is for a brand with a conscience. I came into the huge and well-established sippy cups market to disrupt the current convention of ‘no-spill’ and refocus weaning time on ‘best for baby’ and help support the goal of improving childhood oral health. As well as childhood health, sustainability is also important to me and I am proud to say that my product is 100% recyclable.


Nominees three achievements


Sippy not sucky – a game changing idea:


Manufactured and brought to market Babycup First Cups, a British-made, 100 % recyclable product that began life with the micro-aim of making a weaning cup that was ‘right’ for her own children, but which morphed into the more ambitious aim of making a fundamental change to childhood oral health. Keel now exports to around 30 countries.


Succesfully campaigned to bring about awareness that it’s not just what children eat and drink, but how they eat and drink and specifically the important but often overlooked small difference that sipping, instead of sucking, can bring to childhood health and oral health. Keels’ product is now bought and used by health servcies at home and overseas, (including the NHS, and Government of Canada Regional Health Authorities), has featured in key campaign materials such as Leeds City Council’s oral health programme’s posters, and is used in oral health programmes across the country.


Stood firm in the face of doubters who scorned the idea “it’s just a cup” and “health – that’s a bit niche” to instead push health benefits as a key motivation for purchase and disrupt the convenience convention of no-spill and other devices that Keel found to have potentially harmful effects. Having built a significant social media following of over 40K followers combined on FB, Twitter and insta and having sold around half a million cups to date, and racked up a trophy cabinet of awards, Keel is proud to have had the courage of her convinctions and to be disrupting a market in which she believes a focus on ‘best for baby’ is the best – and right – thing to do.


Other information:


When I founded Babycup, I set out with the aim of making sipping doable for babies and young children and to make mini open cups the norm. This was the healthy thing to do. The multitude of benefits, most notably oral health, from drinking this way meant teaching sipping from an early age seemed an obvious habit to instil. This meant going against what had become the perceived convention of sippy cups and no-spill lids and decades of clever marketing to time-poor parents, playing on their busy lives with ads and sales pitches selling convenience and no-mess. Open cups? Mini open cups for babies? Whilst my idea met with praise and approval from health experts, retail giants shook their heads. But there was no going back. I’d seen a problem and I could see a way to solve it.


We manufacture in Britain and we now export to over 30 countries.


As my message has grown stronger and the market come to realise we’re here for keeps, I’ve seen other brands launch their take on the idea. Some call it flattery, some may call it copying, some may call it validating the sector – but what I am seeing is the growth of a sector that didn’t exist when I set out my aim to change the face of baby weaning and positively impact on the state of childhood oral health. I’ve seen health guidelines updated to mention open-cup sipping more and more and it is amazing to see the healthy sipping word spreading. Babycup First Cups go from strength to strength and the feedback I get every day from our delightful customers and from healthcare professionals is absolutely wonderful and so rewarding.


I can count the NHS and the Government of Canada amongst my many customers and over half a million mini open Babycup First Cups have already been used to help nippers become healthy sippers.


I didn’t listen to those who questioned mini open cups when I first launched and I ignored the naysayers – big retailers included!! – who said “Health? That’s a bit niche!”.


I believed from the very start that every family wants the best for their little ones.


Health is not a niche issue. Health is for everyone.


The Oral Health Foundation recently set out their new strategy and published the horrifying statistic that 500 million children worldwide have decay in their baby teeth. Many of these cannot be treated and they must be extracted, often under general anaesthetic.


Oral care is extremely important and we are learning more and more about healthy food and nutrition choices for babies and children. However, one piece of the early start jigsaw that, with increased awareness, can easily be changed, is the important but still often overlooked area of how children learn to drink from a cup. For years we’ve been sold to on the premise of no-spill convenience, but it turns out that sipping from an open cup, instead of sucking from a lid, spout or seal, is actually better for oral health.


We know the early years are a crucial time for instilling healthy habits and the latest advice by Public Health England (published June 2019) reviewed evidence and reiterated the advice that ‘from 6 months of age infants should be introduced to drinking from a free-flow cup’. So using an open cup from weaning will definitely be of benefit and will be a healthy habit that will last a lifetime.
Using a specially sized cup means this sipping habit is easily achievable from an early age. After all, you wouldn’t want to learn to drink from a bucket – that would be disastrous for all and no doubt would lead to cries of “put a lid on it!”. My pursuit of creating the perfect solution has led to my Baby First Cups now exporting to around 30 countries, and being an international award-winning weaning product loved by families and health services at home and overseas (e.g. NHS and Government of Canada) to help little ones’ smiles stay gorgeous. “I looked at what I was expecting my children to do, I even tried drinking from training cups myself. The experience was awful and I thought what I am doing, teaching this little person that they have to suck like a vacuum cleaner to release their drink, or giving them a cup that was similar in size to what I was drinking from. It all seemed wrong and when I looked into it I found dentists and orthodontists recommended using an open cup. Everything else we buy for babies is tiny – just like them! – but for some reason cups were huge. Babycup First Cups were born and the response has been phenomenal!”


Now a regular speaker at events such as the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry conference and a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, which aims to positively influence legislature on childhood nutrition and health.


Based from home so I can combine the demands of growing a business with the demands of three children, Babycup First Cups has sold over half a million cups to date.
Because half the globe’s adult population have tooth decay and it is the most common chronic disease in the world, I am passionate about helping change this rotten situation – with a small change that starts in the baby years. Changing the face of baby smiles : “One small cup for mealtime, a giant leap for childhood health!”

Instagram: @babycuphello

Facebook: BabycupUK

Twitter: @BabycupHello







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