When Kate Torgersen went on a four-day business trip in 2014 after giving birth to twins, she faced a common dilemma for working mothers. If she stopped pumping breast milk, she might be unable to lactate upon returning home. And if she continued, she’d have to somehow store two gallons of breast milk at ice cold temperatures to keep it fresh, as she couldn’t bear the thought of pouring all her hard work down the drain.
She decided on pumping, and ended up lugging 26 pounds of breast milk home in a cooler. By the time she explained her situation to some confused TSA agents, the ice had melted and she had to get fresh ice from a bartender in the airport.
“I was enraged,” she says. “I just kept thinking that if I could just ship it home on a daily basis, it would solve so many problems.”
Torgersen channeled her frustration into Milk Stork, a company that now helps other working mothers on domestic and international business trips ship breast milk overnight.
Milk Stork offers pre-labeled shipping kits in a variety of sizes, containing everything from pre-paid shipping labels to stickers to 180-ounce storage bags. The kits are mailed directly to the hotel, where mothers can pick them at the front desk when checking in. Once they’ve pumped and packed the breast milk in Milk Stork coolers, the kits can be shipped back home each night for the duration of their stay.
Torgersen’s solution to a problem she struggled with herself blossomed into a successful business. To date, Milk Stork has shipped roughly 86,720 kits from 106 countries, and is even offered as an employee benefit by 850 companies. Torgersen hopes that by making travel easier, women won’t feel pressured to choose between work and motherhood.
“Women lose out on opportunities,” she says. “There’s a sadness in having to make those choices. And I think they aren’t able to achieve in the way that they want to achieve professionally.”
She co-founded the company with her father, Mike Torgersen, each laying down $12,000. She asked her friends to test out the shipping kits while traveling in order to make certain she was creating a stress-free experience for customers.
“We needed things to be very easy,” she says. “It was about ensuring that we had a solution that was going to work for [mothers].”
Torgersen, who was working as an executive communications manager for Clif Bar at the time, moonlighted as an entrepreneur after putting her children to bed. Every night, she would work through logistics such as setting up a website and designing shipping kits.
“I made business cards really early on, just so I could have a little talisman in my pocket — a validation of this other journey taking place from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.,” she says.
Milk Stork received orders almost right away, and soon enough, companies came to Torgersen and said they wanted to offer Milk Stork as a benefit to employees. After the company’s first three years, demand had grown so much that Torgersen and her father needed to hire more people.
They received $850,000 in investor funding in 2018, which allowed them to expand their team. Today, the Palo Alto, California-based company has 13 employees.
Pitching to investors (especially male investors) often proves a challenge, she says, because breastfeeding is still seen as a taboo topic. While the women’s and family health company Maven also offers breast milk shipping services, Milk Stork is the only company that specializes entirely in breast milk shipping. And while parents usually understand the mission of Milk Stork right away, Torgersen often has to explain lactation to investors without children, who don’t understand the point of the company.
Some investors also “didn’t understand the emotional connection that people have with breastfeeding,” she says. “Unless you’ve done it, it can seem like a transactional thing. But it’s also about the relationship that you have with your baby.”
Torgersen estimates that half of her pitches involve her explaining breastfeeding to an investor one-on-one.
Employers, however, have given the company an enthusiastic response. Over 850 companies — Pinterest, Capital One, SpaceX and Nissan, to name a few — currently offer Milk Stork as an employee benefit for both domestic and international business trips. A lot of these corporate partnerships were prompted by working mothers approaching their employers, who would then approach Milk Stork.
“Many times when women were going to HR with this request, they were going to someone else who was a working parent, who understood and who had lived the same kind of pain, so it was a no-brainer for many companies,” Torgersen says.
Since founding the company, Torgersen has quit her job at Clif Bar and now works full-time as Milk Stork’s CEO.
She’s proud that the company helps mothers stay connected to their professional ambitions without having to sacrifice opportunities for growth such as business trips. And on a personal level, she’s proud that her children know what she does for a living.
“They know what I built and they know that I built it with their grandpa,” she says. “I hope that I’m a proof point for them that if you care about something, you can build it — and you can thrive by building it.”