Unlocking Seaweed’s Skincare Secrets

23 Jul 2018 | 02.54 pm

Unlocking Seaweed’s Skincare Secrets

Susan's Keating's seaweed balm for male skin

23 Jul 2018 | 02.54 pm

Susan Keating (pictured) gave up a career in aviation to develop skincare products based on seaweed. Men are first in line for NEUÚ, writes Emily Styles

 

Ireland’s seaweed industry is expanding but is still relatively underdeveloped. The island has hundreds of different types of seaweed around its shores and Susan Keating is one entrepreneur who is tapping into the commercial potential of this abundant resource.

The Clare woman is the co-founder and CEO of NEUÚ Seaweed Skincare, a range of face washes, gels, aftershave balms and body washes. Keating parked a nearly 20-year career in the aviation industry to pursue her algotherapy venture, which will expand its range to include female products shortly.

Keating worked in accounts and sales roles for aviation companies such as AerCap, Debis Airfinance and Shannon Engine Support. “I enjoyed that career greatly, and was very privileged with the opportunities it offered, but I reached a point where the learning had diminished and I needed to find a greater personal challenge,” she says.

“Making the decision to leave an established career was difficult, but I have always had an entrepreneurial side and at some point I wanted to create a product from scratch and take it onto international markets.”

NEUÚ’s debut range launched earlier this year in selected retailers such as Shannon Airport Duty Free and Shannon Heritage stores. The products are also sold through the firm’s website and are pitched at the higher end of the market, with prices ranging from €30 for the post-shave balm to €42 for a 50ml bottle of men’s moisturiser.

Keating is prepared to back her business idea with her savings. Allotment filings for Seagreen Bio Ltd disclose €105,000 investment in her own name and €427,000 investment by SK Ross Investments Ltd, where Keating owns 75% of the equity. Co-founder JJ Leahy, a professor in the University of Limerick, owns the balance of the shares.

This year the company has made two interesting director appointments: Shannon Group chairman and aviation leasing veteran Rose Hynes, and accountant Tom Tierney, who is also a director of Jimmy Murphy’s Lifes2good Holdings.

The USP for NEUÚ is the use of lipid extracts derived from seaweed. These lipids keep seaweed hydrated and elastic, and with the NEUÚ lotions these lipids are transferred to human skin. In the interview below, Keating explains more about her business.

What’s so special about seaweed and algotherapy?

Seaweed has an innate ability to retain moisture and suppleness, even while being exposed to the harshest of elements. How we might replicate its ability to protect and hydrate human skin became core to our mission from the start. What makes us different is that we produce our own active seaweed-based ingredients. The components responsible for moisture retention differ from those responsible for protection. These different molecules cannot be extracted together but need to be extracted separately and recombined.

How is the University of Limerick involved with NEUÚ Seaweed Skincare?

I was studying for an MBA at UL when I was first introduced to Professor Leahy. JJ brings a wealth of scientific knowledge to the table, while I have the business and commercial side covered. Outside of JJ’s involvement as co-founder, the arrangement with the university is a commercial one, and we have contracted a number of research and scientific studies at the university. We operate our laboratory and offices in the Nexus Innovation Centre, UL’s incubation space for startup companies.

Was developing NEUÚ a costly undertaking?

We spent three years researching and developing seaweed-based active ingredients. Product development for our men’s skincare range started in 2016 and we officially launched in March 2018, so it has been a lengthy journey.

Why target men with NEUÚ initially?

Our first range was a conscious move to do things differently from the start, and tap into a demographic that is largely underserved by a natural seaweed-based skincare proposition. Considering the wear and tear men’s skin is exposed to as a result of shaving, the men’s range seemed like a very natural place to start. Our female range is in development for launch at end 2018.

How did you go about developing the NEUÚ brand image?

The brand tone of voice has been crafted so that it speaks to both male and female audiences, which is important because of the female influence in male skincare purchases. We’ve been working with Philip Barlow in brand agency Barlo in Dublin, while Limerick graphic designer Cathryn Carey assisted us with the packaging design. With branding I believe it is essential that your customer knows at a glance exactly what you are about.

Have you secured any state agency support for the venture?

The level of investment required to get off the ground is substantial, particularly when bringing an innovative product to market, as IP and R&D costs can be substantial. A handful of large players largely control the cosmetics market, so the branding and marketing investment required to break through is probably one of the biggest hurdles for new businesses in the sector.

An Enterprise Ireland feasibility grant of €20,000 enabled us to explore and test the initial concept. More recently, we secured matched funding from EI of up to €250,000. In addition, we secured private investment of €400,000 through EIIS in 2017, as well as founder funding/investment of a further €100,000.

What are your main day-to-day business challenges?

Time and resources – both human and financial. I think the biggest challenges are accessing finance and managing cashflows at the early stage of a startup, where costs are high and not yet balanced by incoming revenue. Another challenge is finding the right people for your business. This can consume a lot of time and energy, but it is essential to get right.

What is the plan for the business over the next 12 months?

Right now we’re focused on building brand awareness and partnering with retailer in Ireland and overseas. Our female range is in development for an end-of-year launch, and we also have a teenage skincare range in development, which will go to market in 2019, subject to development timeframes being confirmed.

Proving our science is also a priority. To date we have established the hydration and anti-inflammatory properties of NEUÚ Seaweed Skincare products through scientific studies, and we will be adding to them in the coming year. We’ll also be going for a second funding round later in 2018.

 

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