Drs. Walter Neto and Brett Jarrell could become the next big thing in the beauty product business. This fall, with the help of Extension staff members at the WVSU Economic Development Center (EDC), the Huntington-based physicians will launch Biovita, a line of high-end cellular skin care products. It’s a success story that began, admittedly, by happenstance.
While completing his intern year of general residency conducting burn and wound healing research, Walter developed a serum to help in the skin graft healing process that proved to have anti-aging benefits. Teaming with Brett, an emergency room physician, the pair began pondering the feasibility of starting their own business. They tested the product with a select group of users in late 2013, and the response was overwhelming.
“Our users reported that their skin felt younger, silky, more hydrated,” says Brett. “Their friends were noticing a difference and were asking what products they were using to get those effects.”
As the product continued to be honed and additional items created, the urge to become entrepreneurs increased, with one glitch: medical school curriculum doesn’t cover launching and sustaining a small business.
“Having a good product and successfully marketing it as a business are two very different things,” admits Walter. The doctors needed help, and that’s where WVSU Extension Service stepped in.
While visiting the EDC with a writer friend, Brett met WVSU’s Community and Economic Development Specialist Sarah Halstead and liked what she had to say about startup business development. Soon, Brett and Walter were enrolled in Lean Startup 60X, an intensive business training course piloted at the EDC.
“We embrace and teach Lean Startup principles. We joke about the tagline associated with Lean Startup—fail fast, succeed faster—but that’s what we help people do,” says Sarah. “It’s been exciting to see Walter and Brett launch landing pages and social media campaigns designed to test their initial business and customer assumptions, and pivot based on the feedback. They’ve gained valuable customer insight that ultimately changed how they position their products.”
Now they’re equipped with skills and knowledge they never realized they’d need.
“We’ve learned to challenge our assumptions — to find out what people want versus what you think they want,” says Brett, pointing to the impact that the EDC’s educational resources have had on their process. The course had them hitting the streets of Charleston, talking with actual consumers about their wants and needs in a skin care product.
Throughout the 60-day program, the pair worked with writers, designers, financial advisors and marketing experts who helped them turn their anti-aging serum into an entire Biovita line of products — marketable ones.
Once launched, the line will include moisturizer, exfoliant and eye cream, available for purchase from the company’s website and through other online retailers to start, with in-store distribution in the works. And while the product is a local creation, its audience is much larger.
“We want to see where this can go,” says Walter. “Our goal is to take it internationally.”
An ambitious goal for a company that the creators admit was started on a lark? Not at all, say the experts.
“The playing field for startups is more level than ever now, with broadband, social media and access to affordable technology that didn’t even exist a year ago,” says Sarah. “People with a variety of business ideas are attracted to the EDC and its resources. We’ve created virtual and physical resources, and have nurtured a community of entrepreneurs who can test their assumptions and develop customers using fast, direct, cost-effective methods. We’re happy to help them fail fast, so they can succeed faster.”
Look for the Biovita line of products this fall.