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Business, Entrepreneurs, STEM

Entrepreneurs Under 18 and SolaFeet

On any given day, I probably receive and average of 200 emails each day. Within the last seven days one email that caught my interest was a newsletter that included a story about 10 Entrepreneurs Under 18 Who Jumped on the Startup Fast Track [Ref 1]. Another email, sent to me earlier via the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Group, was finally being acted upon. Its message header: Shark Tank Help Needed.

Dictionary.com provides the following definition for entrepreneur: the owner or manager of a business enterprise who, by risk and initiative, attempts to make profits. It is a word that is used frequently in business today as communities, cities, states, and countries around the world attempt to identify what the next big thing is going to be to create jobs and income.
The U.S. has its fair share of entrepreneurs, and like most developed countries, is in need of more. Several of the young entrepreneurs featured in the short article have started more than one company. Two of these enterprising phenoms started their businesses at the ripe age of eight (8) years old. Nick D’Aloisio is one of the young-preneurs featured in the TechRepublic story. He is the 16-year old founder of Summly, a news app that he recently sold to Yahoo for $30 million….more than chump change for your average teen. Oh by the way (OBTW), Nick currently works for Yahoo in the UK.

Maya Penn, CEO of Maya's Ideas (Source: TechRepublic)

Maya Penn, CEO of Maya’s Ideas (Source: TechRepublic)

Another young-preneur is Maya Penn. It was Maya’s beautiful photo that initially drew me to the article. The now 14-year old CEO of Maya’s Ideas founded her firm when she was eight years old. Her company sells econ-friendly clothing and accessories. In addition to the above, she operates a non-profit called Maya’s Ideas 4 the Planet. The organization donates 10-20% of its profits to charitable causes. Doing good while earning an income is a concept that this serial entrepreneur has learned at a very young age. Rock on Ms. Maya, rock on!

Now, about that email from an AIChE Group member. His message states that he is trying to get one of his company’s products on the television series Shark Tank. I’ve been watching Shark Tank for about three years and am a big fan of the show! The group member is seeking likes or support for the product as a selling point to make the cut for a future Shark Tank episode. So, I say to myself, “Why not open the web link and find out what their product Solafeet is all about?” I click on the link and am taken to the Shark Tank Zone.

In the introductory statement of the product, I read: “You may be aware of golfers, tennis players, runners, bicyclists…etc. who have WHITE FEET from wearing shoes.” I smile. Yes, I am very much aware of these folks because I have white feet as well. That was enough to motivate me to watch a two-minute video.

Blogger's white feet (April 2014)

Blogger’s white feet (April 2014)

The product is a tanning device or bed for your feet. You can get an at-home tan on your feet thereby allowing one to wear open-toed shoes and sandals with more confidence. You will know that folks are actually smiling and looking at your and not your feet. My first thought: I could have been a foot model for this video. Of course that would have been after the pedicure and addition of polish to my nails (see photo). My second thought: It’s an interesting idea; however, how much of a demand is there for this product for consumers seeking tanning products? What does it cost? I go to the company’s website, http://www.solafeet.com [Ref 2], and see that the product retails for $229 plus shipping and handling.

Is there room for this product in a very crowded tanning market? Maybe. I consulted IBIS World [Ref 3], a provider of consumer market research. The tanning products market consists of topical products for use outdoors, sunless tanning products (for non-UV exposure), and sun application products such as tanning beds. Sales for the topical products are expected to grow as consumers seek to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays, limit sunburns and prevent skin cancer. Revenues for topical products were $1 billion in 2012, and are projected to increase.

IBIS reports for 2014 that the self-tanning products market includes topical-application lotions and ingestible pills. These products create the appearance of tanned skin without exposure to sunlight. Use of sunless tanning products is expected to grow as health concerns over UV-based tanning rises. Annual revenues of $763 million are reported with an annual growth in sales of about 15% for the past five years. Solafeet may compete with products in this market. The real question is how well do the sunless tanning products address the white-feet issue?

Other competitors to Solafeet are salons that provide tanning via UV tanning beds and booths as well as spray-on tanning services. The primary concern for this $5 billion industry is the continuing concern about health risks associated with UV tanning. At this time there is no single company that dominates the indoor tanning market. Most customers of indoor tanning salons aren’t battling a white feet issue. They either want a full tan or they don’t. While prices for spray-tan or booth tans vary, there is usually a higher price paid for the initial tan. Average prices quoted range from $160- and $200/month for the spray tan and booth tan, and 100- to $150/month for the follow-up monthly maintenance. Not cheap.

Before and after tanning results

Before and after tanning results

Solafeet states that its product is FDA/UL-approved although I did not confirm this information. The customer can tan his or her feet in just 15 short minutes each day. For the initial tanning, a period of seven to 14 days is recommended. The tanning process is simple, easy to use, and could be done while working on the computer or watching television.

There may be a market for Solafeet. The question is how many self-conscious folks are running around with white-feet and are highly motivated to do something about them? That’s a question I can’t answer, however, I wish the folks at Solafeet much success.

1. 10 Entrepreneurs Under 18 Who Jumped on the Startup Fast Track, by Conner Forest, in TechRepublic, http://www.techrepublic.com/pictures/10-entrepreneurs-under-18-who-jumped-on-the-startup-fast-track/2/, March 27, 2014. Last accessed on April 12, 2014.
2. Shark Tank Zone, http://sharktankzone.com/content/solafeet
3. IBIS World, http://www.ibisworld.com


About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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