Sarah Houston ’24 discusses her entrepreneurial journey thus far and her company, Aurganics Skincare. Sarah is an I&E Certificate student and the recipient of the 2022 Rasheed A. Wiggins Entrepreneurial Prize.
Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur when you came to Duke? What made you decide to become a founder?
I did know I wanted to be an entrepreneur before arriving at Duke, but I didn’t know in what capacity. I’d created smaller “businesses” (more like passion projects) in high school, but I knew that they were short-term endeavors. For example, I used to bake, sell, and deliver macarons in high school for two years through my online bakery, Macaron Central. I became obsessed with creating different flavor combinations, some of them limited-edition, and it was so rewarding every time I watched someone taste one for the first time.
I decided to become a founder at Duke because of the amazing network and opportunities Duke provides, especially through the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate. I used to consider starting a “real” business to be terrifying and complex; while it can be both, it is much easier to navigate when you have a community of professors and other student founders to navigate it with you, or who are navigating it themselves. I am a founder because I love creating. It is so rewarding to visualize something, create an action plan, and see it come to pass. I love newness, formulation, and the mandatory trial-and-error process. In short, I knew that if I pursued a venture through Duke, I would be more supported—and perhaps less terrified.
Tell us about your venture. What led you to create Aurganics Skincare?
Aurganics Skincare started as a quarantine passion project, with me using kitchen ingredients to create all-natural body and lip scrubs for my friends and family, as there weren’t many in the market then. Around this time last year, I decided to shift my focus to skincare and face products, after I kept struggling to find skincare that treated my hyperpigmentation without giving me berserk breakouts or irritation from fragrance and/or other harsh additives. Similarly, it was hard for me to find women who looked like me in marketing advertisements for treatment products like serums and toners. As a result, I kept haphazardly experimenting with new, ineffective products, some of which worsened my symptoms. And in my customer surveys, I found that the majority of interviewees (Black and brown female-identifying college students, aged 18-22) had a similarly ineffective skincare shopping strategy, leaving them unhappy with their skin overall. There is also an overwhelming lack of brands that display and emphasize the importance of gentle self-care practices (like skincare) for Black and brown women.
Consequently, I’ve niched down to creating products that target sensitive skin and hyperpigmentation for melanated skin types. Our luxuriously gentle formulas that prioritize plant-based, herbal ingredients take the stress out of sensitive skincare by giving your skin the glow it deserves, because our skin is worth more than gold (Au)!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in building your venture?
The most important lesson that I’ve learned so far is to keep going, and that you can only do what you can do today. As a founder, it always feels like there are a million things to do next, and it can get overwhelming when you realize there is only you versus these million things. Sometimes hyper-focusing on the big picture goal (rather than the action steps to get there) can unnecessarily make things 10x harder and cause you to overthink, plan, and ruminate constantly instead of just executing and doing the thing. Consistency is always better than short-lived intensity.
This semester you’re working on Aurganics Skincare in the course New Ventures: Development. What led you to submit your venture for the course, and what are your hopes for outcomes?
I decided to submit Aurganics for New Ventures: Development because I want to pursue the venture full-time after graduation. I saw NVD as an incredible opportunity to network with other founders and learn how to well position my business as well as build a global audience—I know my target audience, but I still need guidance on reaching her and strategies to find her. While I have product development and marketing experience, it is through NVD that I can develop and test business models, build a team, and ultimately prep Aurganics for funding, which is my ideal outcome.
You’re an I&E Certificate student. What led you to join the Certificate, and how does it support your goals?
I joined the I&E Certificate initially to hold myself accountable for pursuing Aurganics at least a little bit throughout my undergrad career. Since I am also a Music and Psychology double major and did a study away program last term, I’m just now starting my I&E courses in my junior spring. However, since I am quickly becoming aware of the vast network that is the I&E program, I don’t feel behind or unsure about joining at all. I have already received so much more guidance and mentorship (Dr. Jones is a gem!) than I could have imagined without stepping foot into an I&E classroom.