Photography by Grady Carter
Sean Gilmore’s mother, Vanessa, describes her son as being a creative and ambitious young entrepreneur who enjoys lacrosse and hanging out with friends. He came up with the idea of the Sleepover Bed Tent that might fulfill another youngster’s holiday wish list.
Our Conversation with Vanessa Gilmore . . .
Where are you two from? If not from Houston, where and what brought you to the city?
I was born in New York but raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. I came to Houston in 1977, when I accepted a position as a fashion buyer for Foley’s Department Store. I decided to undertake a career in law after winning a minor lawsuit against my apartment complex. I had a great career as a trial lawyer and was very active in many community organizations, but I woke up one day and realized I had forgotten to have a baby. At 44, I adopted my son, Sean Harrison Gilmore, who was born in Galveston, Texas. He is named after his godfather, the late E. Lynn Harris, who was a fiction author.
Tell us about Sean. How old is he? Describe his personality.
Sean is 14, a ninth grader at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory. His friends would describe him as very kind and thoughtful. He is the peacemaker among his friends and the kid who is always worried about other people’s feelings. He graduated in 2015 from the River Oaks Baptist School, where he played both football and lacrosse. When he was 10, in the fifth grade at River Oaks Elementary school, his science teacher, Mr. Rainn, convinced him to enter the Inventor’s showcase at school. The kids were encouraged to come up with solutions for everyday problems. Sean thought about how much he liked having his friends over for sleepovers but since he only had one bed, he and his friends would often build forts on the bed. He thought about how much fun it would be to hang out when you wanted to enjoy your friend’s company, but also have your own private sleeping space when it was time to go to bed. He built a model of a bed tent and entered it into the Inventor's showcase. He won second place at his school and, as a result, he was invited to display his invention at the Children’s Museum of Houston. So many kids liked his idea, that he asked me if I would help him find a way to really make a bed tent. I found a manufacturer for him, and he worked on prototypes of his invention for two years before he came up with a final product that worked. He is a very persistent kid and once he sets his mind to something, he won’t stop until he gets it done.
Tell me about the sleepover tent...what do you officially call it?
After working on his prototypes for two years, Sean came up with his final product, which he calls the Sleepover Bed Tent. It is the unique solution for sleeping single in a double. The Sleepover Bed Tent fits on a full- or queen-sized bed, and has a drop down center panel that can be raised when you want to enjoy your friend’s company, and lowered for privacy when it is time to go to sleep. The tent comes in its own small carrying case, making it easy to carry with you for sleepovers, family vacations, school field trips or even when traveling for sports, band and cheerleading competitions. There are two models for the tent. Model A is made from canvas and is waterproof. It can be used indoors but also works outdoors when placed on a blow up mattress. Some customers have suggested that they intend to use it on a blow up mattress in the back of a pick up truck when going on fishing trips. Model B is made from a nylon fabric and it is designed to be used indoors only. Sean launched his business in September of 2014, when he was in the eighth grade. He had his launch party at Lynn Goode Vintage and his product was enthusiastically received.
How do people buy them?
The tent is available for sale online (www.sleepoverbedtent.com).
Sean has also been a vendor at some conferences where he has had the opportunity to sell the Sleepover Bed Tent. Sean has been asked to speak to a number of youth groups and organizations for children and he is often provided an opportunity to sell his tents at those events. The tents have been given to students for graduation gifts and have even been purchased to give as donations to children at Christmas and for other occasions. Because Sean is asked to speak to young people who are interested in becoming kid entrepreneurs so often, he has become a very good speaker and enjoys encouraging other kids to pursue their own dreams of becoming entrepreneurs. This summer, Sean decided to write a book about his experiences and that book was published on August 25, 2015. It is called, “Making Money While You’re Sleeping - My Journey as a Kid Entrepreneur”. It is available on the following sites: www.xlibris.com and www.Amazon.com.
The book and tent are also available for sale on his Web site and are available for immediate shipping. Both items make great Christmas gifts for kids and will be available for Christmas delivery this year.
How are you involved with the tent idea?
Because I believed that Sean’s idea was very unique, I encouraged him to try to secure a patent for his idea. I helped him find a patent lawyer who explained to Sean that he could pursue both a design patent, which protects what a product looks like, and a utility patent that protects what a product does. As a result, he filed an application for both patents. His design is now patented as the Slumber Separator.
Do you work — besides helping Sean with the tent? What do you think of your young entrepreneur?
Sean cannot be the president of his company because he is only 14. His business card lists him as “Inventor,” and I am very proud of everything he has done to bring an idea to market that he conceived when he was only 10 years old. This summer, Sean worked as a volunteer Discovery Guide at the Children’s Museum of Houston, where he helped young children and their families who were visiting the museum. He also volunteered with Living Water, a Houston organization, which provided him the opportunity to go to Guatemala this summer to dig a water well. Sean loves math and science, and his dream is to attend Stanford University and major in aerospace engineering.
When I am not engaged in my labor of love, serving as the president of Sean’s company, I work at my real job, where I serve as a United States District Judge in the Southern District of Texas. I have been a federal judge for 21 years. I was appointed by President Clinton and was the first University of Houston graduate to be appointed to the federal bench. I am also the author of four books, including “A Boy Named Rocky” — a book for the children of incarcerated parents and “Saving the Dream” — a fiction novel about adoption that I wrote to encourage people to pursue their own dreams of having a family through adoption. My latest novel is a tribute to Sean’s late godfather, E. Lynn Harris. It is called, “Lynn’s Angels: The True Story of E. Lynn Harris and the Women Who Loved Him.”
What does the family like to do in their “off” time?
Sean and I enjoy traveling, especially skiing in the winter and relaxing at the beach in Martha’s Vineyard during the summer.