Stephanie Wilson is familiar with stress and exhaustion. The 30-year-old entrepreneur is also a full-time night nurse who spends much of her free time working on her fledgling company.
The idea for her startup came from her experience in health care, where workers are worn down after long days and nights, especially during the global pandemic.
"I've always had a hard time staying hydrated," she said "I know my co-workers have a hard time with that as well and I hated plain water."
Wilson saw an opportunity. She canvassed her colleagues and came up with Tiki Bev, a liquid enhancer aimed at frontline workers — and anyone who needs a boost. The startup soft-launched in October 2020, aiming to be the healthy, eco-conscious alternative to liquid water enhancers.
"Everyone needs an immunity boost. You know, as nurses, we never get enough sleep. And we always need more energy," she said.
Even with the pandemic, the global market for water enhancers was valued at $2.6 billion in 2020 by marketing analytics firm Research and Markets, which estimated that would grow $6 billion by 2027, as consumers focus on health-conscious and low-calorie beverages. Kraft and Dyla are big competitors in the space with products such as health-focused Stur and MiO, which advertises itself as a way to turn water into a "flavor-packed vessel of motivation."
Wilson said the more she started to look more into the big product names and common ingredients in many enhancers, the more she realized how bad some of them are for you. Aspartame, sucralose and polyethylene glycol are common in many products, she said. They're also entirely artificial.
Tiki Bev founder Stephanie Wilson
"A couple of these ingredients in the certain liquid enhancers are found in, like, paint thinners," Wilson said. Instead, she aims to make Tiki Bev the natural, health-conscious competition. The company uses stevia and promotes immunity, energy and sleep, she said.
At the moment, Tiki has one product available, a Vitamin C, orange flavor immunity booster. Two more — a passion fruit formula for boosting energy and a pear flavor enhancer to help consumers sleep — there's no exact launch date for those products, but Wilson wants to everyone keep an eye out.
Wilson thought of running Tiki Bev back in her native Ohio, but decided instead to stay in Los Angeles because of the city's proximity to the beach and its focus on healthy living and environmentalism — all of which she sees as key to Tiki's brand.
In February, Wilson found her way onto Amazon's "Two Minute Pitch" show, a competition show hosted by serial entrepreneur David Meltzer on which founders pitch their companies in order to win exposure and cash.
Tiki Bev won the $50,000 prize, which has helped get their product back into production after some investors backed down from their pre-seed funding round.
"It's great to say that you were on a competition show. David Meltzer is a big name and business," Wilson said, "It helps kind of show credibility that we were able to do that and bring home a win for such a small company, especially when we were competing against other big names, people that have been in business much longer than us."
Wilson was able to land a spot on Manos, a Google-backed accelerator aimed at Latino and Latina entrepreneurs, where she got some help learning how to start a business, structure the company and find investors.
Ultimately she wants to distribute the product in a biodegradable bottle and focus on becoming a full-time entrepreneur and solve the problem of her original customers.
"Nursing is a stressful job and if Tiki can help boost your vitamin intake to help you stay healthy, keep you energized, or help you fall asleep after a stressful shift, we have done our job."
Counter Brands is getting a billion-dollar makeover, and joining the unicorn club.
The parent company of Beautycounter, which makes eco-friendly skin-care products and cosmetics, is being acquired by the massive private equity firm, The Carlyle Group, executives at the companies announced Tuesday.
Equity funding for the deal came from Carlyle Partners VII, an $18.5 billion fund that focuses on U.S. consumer, media and retail companies – part of the $246 billion overall fortune Carlyle manages.
Beautycounter was founded by Gregg Renfrew in 2011 and last year raised at a $400 million valuation in 2018, according to Pitchbook data.
Renfrew told dot.LA co-founder Spencer Rascoff in an interview recorded in December that she started the company after seeing young friends around her be diagnosed with cancer or suffer from infertility.
Beautycounter founder Gregg Renfrew
"I started to wonder what was going on, why were things going so wrong for the Earth and why were things going terribly wrong for human health?" Renfrew said. "The one thing that I over time became aware of is that we were all being exposed to toxic chemicals and that there is a direct link between environmental health and physical health and our exposure to toxic chemicals."
Renfrew became "obsessed" with trying to remove all chemicals from her home, but she had trouble finding cosmetics that were both free of toxins and effective.
"I thought, why am I asked to compromise my health in the name of beauty?" she wondered. "And I thought I could start a brand that actually stands for health and performance simultaneously."
Renfrew grew up in New York City and still has an affinity for the city, but she says she is happy to have started Beautycounter in Santa Monica.
"When you think about clean living – whether that's focusing on the environment, sustainability, healthy food, healthy skincare or cosmetics – you see so much happening in Los Angeles," she said. "We are so well ahead of the curve on so many things that are happening."
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On today's episode of Behind Her Empire podcast, meet Michelle Cordeiro Grant, the founder and CEO of LIVELY, a direct-to-consumer company that makes lingerie and more with a focus on style and comfort.
Grant grew up with immigrant parents, thinking she wanted to become a doctor or a lawyer, but her true passion lay in working with products and building brands. At the end of a long and extremely successful career at brands including Victoria's Secret, Grant came to the realization that the $13 billion lingerie category was being dominated by a single brand and had a very narrow point of view.
This led her to go out on her own and create LIVELY, with the goal of building a brand that strived to reflect real, authentic, everyday women like herself. Grant watched the women walking down 5th Avenue in NYC, "and you could just see the confidence oozing when they had this handbag or the shoes."
She said she wanted to bring that kind of confidence, coupled with comfort to women. In 2016, she launched LIVELY,, which now has four stores and fosters a network of over 140,000 brand ambassadors whose online content embodied, "passion, purpose and competence."
She grew the business from its concept stage to a recent $100 million acquisition in just three years, beating the odds that many female-founded companies face.
On this episode, you'll hear from Grant as she describes the tactical steps she took to leave her career and build a company that she was passionate about, what it takes to build a brand from concept to acquisition and how she built a community of 140,000 ambassadors.
Michelle Cordeiro Grant is the founder and CEO of LIVELY. Previously, she was VP of merchandising at Thrillist and director/ senior merchant at Victoria's Secret.