AGWORKS TEAM #1: Tomboy Organic Skincare Company

AgWorksThe Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and AgLaunch are collaborating to host East Tennessee’s first ever accelerator solely focused on agricultural start-ups. The program, named AgWorks, was described in this recent article. It features five companies that are accelerating their ideas at Sizzle TechStart.

Between now and the upcoming “AgWorks Demo Day” later in August, we will be spotlighting each of the teams. Today’s focus is on Tomboy Organic Skincare Company.

Tell us about yourself and, if applicable, your other team members . . . names(s), background(s), experience, etc.  My name is Melissa Kreis-Stephens, and I am the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Tomboy Organic Skincare Company, an organic skin care business that formulates plant salves, skin care and make-up using herbs and roots from the native deciduous forests of the southeast.   In 2016, Tomboy won the American Choice Best Brand Award.  That same year Tomboy’s War Woman Scar Oil Salve won Trailblazer Girl’s Top Skin Care Products of 2016. I have a B.S. in Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a teaching degree in Chemistry. I am manufacturing in my hometown of Deer Lodge, TN on the Cumberland Plateau where we are making plans to revitalize my hometown and champion rural entrepreneurship in the area. I have a passion for whitewater kayaking, rock climbing and medicinal plant chemistry.

Describe the focus of your start-up and the problem you are trying to address.  From a high school classroom at Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute, my students and I conducted a science experiment with our herbal poison ivy remedy.  Little did we know that what we created in the classroom that day would come to outperform anything on the traditional market for the relief of poison ivy symptoms. And a business idea was born:  a smart, new solution to solve an age-old problem – poison ivy outbreak. The collaboration didn’t stop in the classroom.  At the time, I had three small children – ages three, five and seven.  I like to say that some of my best ideas came from a seven-year old!  We were just starting to realize the chemical load in traditional skincare products.  So, my seven-year old offered me two suggestions: (1) we start our own organic skincare company; and (2) we formulate skin care without preservatives.  We added a solution to cystic acne to our list of accomplishments.  And rosacea. We have a total of 25 products including six plant salves that address the issues of outdoor adventurists:  a bug repellant, sunburn relief, climbing jam, sore muscle and bone rub, and a scar oil.  All are named after women, rapids or rock climbing routes in the Southeast.

How did the idea to start the company originate? What was the catalyst? My daughter, Somer, who was seven at the time had the original idea to start the company. Also, we had never seen such powerful results from a poison ivy remedy as we did with our Jewel Poison Ivy Salve, our first product!

What was the impetus for applying to participate in AgWorks? Applying to AgWorks was a natural evolution from the KEC’s CO.STARTERS class, the Women in Entrepreneurship network, and the GrowthWorks program to grow my business to the next level including mentorship and advising from the specialists in the field.

What do you expect to accomplish before the August “Demo Day”? We hope to move from our home formulary and kitchen into a manufacturing facility.  The ideal situation would involve the purchase and renovation of a building in my hometown so as to champion entrepreneurship and spur economic growth in our area.  Although a lofty accomplishment before the August “Demo Day,” at least to have the plans in place to make that happen would be wonderful! Next Spring, Tomboy will go back to York Institute with an academic scholarship.  The following year, we hope to place a scholarship at each of our four county high schools.


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