When you look back on 2017, I hope this year will have been half as good to you as it’s been to Patrice Mousseau.
Mousseau is the founder of Vancouver-based Satya Organic Skincare, which has just had the best year anyone could expect. Its sole product, an anti-inflammatory skin cream, is now sold through 600 stores across Canada, up from 400 a year ago. Over the past year, Mousseau has tripled her sales, and grown online revenue by 10 times. And she developed several new products that will debut in 2018.
On top of that, Mousseau scooped up prizes this year, including two awards for outstanding aboriginal businesses (a native of Sioux Lookout, Ont., Mousseau is an Ojibwa from the Fort William First Nation). She also won a national Startup Canada pitch competition judged by three CBC-TV dragons. Best of all, the SHeEo Radical Generosity community selected Satya as one of five companies to share $500,000 in low-interest financing – with 500 women investors and executives not just rooting from the sidelines, but eager to step in and help.
A former broadcaster without any business training, Mousseau doesn’t want you to think everything’s coming up roses. Like many entrepreneurs, she has faced retail rejection, production bottlenecks and often wallowed in self-doubt. Still, the speed with which Satya has certified its products and gained shelf space suggests that Canada is not just becoming a nation that respects startups, but also knows how to nurture them. Which is great news for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Satya’s story, like so many businesses, starts with a resourceful mom. Mousseau gave up a flourishing news career (she has anchored the national news for both CBC’s news channel and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) to raise her daughter, Esme. At eight months, Esme developed eczema, painful inflammations of the skin. Between a crying baby and bloodied sheets, Mousseau was anxious to find a remedy – but she had covered enough news stories about harmful side-effects to shun the steroid-based creams her doctor prescribed.
(For the record, one medical site, patient.info, notes that topical steroid creams and lotions are “usually” safe. But it says continued use can affect a child’s growth, or cause problems such as skin thinning, bone damage and high blood pressure.)
A background in news gives one the confidence to tackle research projects that would deter most people. Scouring libraries and the Web for more benign skin treatments, Mousseau discovered a whole world of plant-based anti-inflammatories, involving nuts and flowers and other organic products. She ordered such ingredients as calendula (basically, marigolds) and almond oil, and blended them in a crock pot on her stove. In a few weeks she came up with a creamy substance that she smeared on her baby’s tender skin. It cleared up Esme’s rashes in two days.
She apparently had no compunctions about offering her remedy to friends: It's all made from food. You could eat it
That left Mousseau wondering what to do with all her leftover product. So she asked her Facebook network if anyone was interested in some free, home-made skin cream. (She apparently had no compunctions about offering her remedy to friends: “It’s all made from food. You could eat it.”) Mousseau’s friends proved so eager to try it that she had to go back to the stove and make three more pots. Which is when she figured this could be a business.
The best startups are rooted in research. Mousseau attended business conferences to learn how to build a company and meet mentors; she discovered how to apply for USDA organic certification, and even found a young designer who agreed to design Mousseau’s product for free. She called her business Satya, a yoga term meaning truthfulness. “I decided I would always make the best, highest choices,” Mousseau says. “I wanted to create a business that I could be a role model in.”
In fall 2013, Mousseau started selling through farmers’ markets. Her first day’s take: $110. Today Satya consists of eight part-time employees (up from four a year ago), all of them working moms on flexible hours. With funding from Vancouver’s Tale’awtxw Aboriginal Capital Corp. and local bank Vancity, Mousseau has scrimped where she could (“Everything in my trade-show booth came from Value Village”) and spends where she must: in line with Satya’s ethics, she pays all her employees a living wage of at least $22 an hour.
Aided by Acton, Ont.-based Purity Life Health Products, Canada’s largest distributor of health-food products, Satya now sells to more than 600 retailers, from independents to giants such as Metro, Rexall and Whole Foods. Its creams are now produced by a co-packing facility in Vancouver. And while Mousseau strives to keep her products affordable, she says profit margins are a healthy 64 per cent to 84 per cent.
For 2018, Mousseau is introducing a push-stick applicator for people who don’t like dipping their fingers in goo, as well as body butter, and new formulations for tattoo owners and sufferers of psoriasis. But her big dream now is to go beyond role model to become an economic catalyst. She wants to build her own co-packing facility, preferably on aboriginal land near Vancouver, to help other entrepreneurs develop new products and build businesses in an environment built for untested and insecure innovators. “Entrepreneurs are actually pretty vulnerable,” she says. “We put on this façade of continuing success. But sometimes it’s just good to have someone you can share your failures with, in a safe place.”
This is why entrepreneurship matters so much. Today’s winning entrepreneurs create better conditions and opportunities for tomorrow’s startups.
Rick Spence is a writer, consultant and speaker specializing in entrepreneurship.