CLEVELAND, Ohio — In 2006, Julianne Klinger was pregnant with her first child with husband Jonathan. They were living in Jonathan’s native England, where midwives urge pregnant women to play music for their unborn babies to promote bonding.
Julianne looked for a device that would make it easy to play music to her baby in the womb. There were headphones that stretched over her belly, harnesses with speakers and tiny speakers that attached with sticky pads. All were too complicated or too messy.
What if, the Klingers asked themselves, playing music for an unborn baby was as easy as popping in earbuds? The question led them to invent Mbrio, a pregnancy earbud adapter. Standard earbuds fit into Mbrio’s two silicon adapters; the adapters clip onto the waistband of the wearer’s pants.
“That’s it — it takes three seconds,” Jonathan said. He and Julianne, who live in Pepper Pike, are co-founders and co-presidents of Mbrio Technologies, the company behind Mbrio. Jonathan and Julianne are the only full-time employees.
When model Ashley Graham shared a photo of herself using Mbrio with her millions of Instagram followers, more than 1,700 people left comments, Jonathan said. Taylor Brooke Boyd, wife of country music star Craig Wayne Boyd, also has used it.
Mbrio made entertainment and fitness website PopSugar’s list of “Must Have” products last fall, Jonathan said.
Since Mbrio’s launch six months ago, even more women have used it to bond with their babies. The device, which costs $29.95, can be used with wireless or wired earbuds. It’s available on the Mbrio website. The Klingers declined to give sales figures.
Some expectant mothers say they feel their babies kicking while the tunes play, but their babies quiet down during the pauses between tracks. That makes sense, because unborn babies begin to hear at 18 weeks’ gestation, and respond to sounds at 25 weeks, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Kristi Szabo, 39, of Painesville, created a playlist for her son Dawson, who was born in January.
“Music is very important to me and holds so much meaning to me in many milestones in my life,” Szabo wrote in an email. “I wanted to share that love and commemorate the pregnancy of Dawson with music.”
Mbrio user Heidi Malleske of Fairview Park is wearing the adapters while taking walks and doing low-impact exercises during her pregnancy.
“I have read the research on how amazing music can be for a baby's development in the womb,” Malleske wrote in an email. “So I figured, why not do anything I could to help improve that?"
That research suggests that music helps stimulate certain areas of an unborn baby’s brain.
A study published in the medical journal Neural Plasticity in 2019 examined the research on fetal and neonatal processing of music. It found evidence that the ability of newborns to respond to music is influenced by sounds they were exposed to during the last trimester.
A 2017 controlled trial published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice suggested music improves the vital signs of pregnant women during the third trimester, and increases fetal heart rates.
Julianne Klinger wasn’t able to use Mbrio with either of her two pregnancies, because the development process took years. Initially, the Klingers used money from family and friends to fund Mbrio Technologies, and kept their jobs.
Now, a thriving Mbrio Technologies is their full-time gig.
The couple met while Julianne was in business school in Chicago; Jonathan was working for a startup and traveling between Britain and the United States. They married in Julianne’s hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, in 2004.
The Klingers lived in Paris and Britain, then moved back to the United States in 2007 to take jobs in marketing and engineering in Silicon Valley and New York.
The couple moved to Cleveland in 2015 for Jonathan’s former position running marketing, research and development for a Cleveland-based business.
They found a welcoming startup environment in Ohio. Last year, Mbrio Technologies won $100,000 in a pitch competition run by Glide, which offers assistance to entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio.
Mbrio components are made overseas and assembled at Christie Lane Industries, a nonprofit organization in Norwalk, Ohio, that provides employment for adults with developmental disabilities.
Having access to a 3-D printer at Sears think[box], a maker space at Case Western Reserve University for students, entrepreneurs and not-for-profit organizations, allowed the company to make prototype earbud adapters at low cost.
“Being in Cleveland has been phenomenal,” Jonathan said.