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Marinela is a pioneer of wellness for women and babies, she has invented and launched products which are both innovative and original addressing some very important potential health risks. We caught up with her as she was preparing for the launch of her new skincare line formulated exclusively for women to use before during and after pregnancy.
Editor: When and where did you decide to become a wellness entrepreneur?
Marinela: It was 2017 and we were living in Singapore. I had just given birth to my second son Balthazar and he was developing breathing difficulties and presenting a worrying skin condition similar to his older brother. Quite honestly, I was at a loss. Both my boys were suffering from these strange skin conditions and no-one could give me a good answer as to why. While I was pregnant and during breast feeding, I followed all of the recommended diets, took the right supplements and avoided anything that might promote allergies, yet they had these issues. After months of research, multiple visits to different specialists I was finally able to connect the conditions to air pollution.
Editor: What type of air pollution are you refering to?
Marinela: Palm oil companies with plantations in Indonesia are regularly accused of slash-andburn practices to illegally clear vegetation which releases tons of ash into the atmosphere. Depending upon the wind direction, clouds can engulf Singapore and parts of Malaysia creating an unbearable haze which forces everyone to stay inside and wear masks when venturing out. It can last for weeks if not months. The particles floating in the air are really very harmful and can cause all sorts of health issues. During this period the hospitals are overrun with people suffering breathing difficulties. Unfortunately young babies cannot be so easily protected and both my boys developed conditions and related skin disorders. It was at this time that I thought maybe there’s some way to protect babies rather than keeping them locked up indoors. That was really the genesis of my wellness company.”
Editor: I read that you started your career in finance, not a typical path to what you’re doing now?
Marinela: I was born near Sofia in Bulgaria. At that time pupils were streamed and groomed in a specific career. By 12th grade I was attending the Economy high school and it had already been decided that I would work in finance. Then when I was 17yrs I decided to see if it was possible to finish my studies in the USA. At the time Bulgaria was going through postcommunist reshuffle of power, it wasn’t the safest place and like many others I thought it might be easier to find work abroad. I was very lucky to get accepted at John Jay College where I completed my degree in Finance and Economic Analysis.
Editor: What was it like seeing America for the first time?
Marinela: I was blown away by everything. The music, the buildings, the culture, totally overwhelmed. I was working two waitress jobs to finance my degree. Of course it was tough in terms of coping with my studies while holding down the day job. The days we long, often finishing at 3am only to start again at 7am. But I was young and it was all so new and exciting that I really didn’t really notice, it was great fun. Looking back now, I’m not sure how I coped.
Editor: You secured your degree and went into finance?
Marinela: After 4 years I got my degree in Finance and started an internship with a Wall Street firm ‘National Securities”. After meeting a wonderful mentor in finance I found my way into Private Wealth management working first at Morgan Stanley in New York before we moved to Singapore where I joined UBS.
Editor: You then had your two sons in Singapore and decided to embark on a new career. How different was it working for yourself?
Marinela: I really didn’t realize at the time what it meant to work for yourself not to mention launch products in categories I knew nothing about. All my life I had been groomed to be in finance, but I discovered a mission and that was it. It’s funny to think about it. All my education understanding balance sheets and cashflow went out of the window when my passion took over. I made so many mistakes, which were quite embarrassing. But in my heart, I knew I had to try and do something and so I kept on going.
Editor: What did you focus on and why?
Marinela: The first area I concentrated on was solving the air pollution problem for babies. Due to their size and risks around breathing and oxygen intake it’s not possible to place masks over their tiny mouths. I remember a light bulb moment in the shower. I ran out of the bathroom and cornered my partner telling him I knew how to solve the problem. Why not surround the baby in a protective bubble so they could breathe filtered air. He took a while to be convinced but eventually signed up to help me. Turning the idea into a product was more complex than it appeared. There was the design, the air filtration technology, the regulations and finally the production facilities.
Editor: You had no knowledge or connections in the baby products space. Where did you start?
Marinela: It was quite surreal as if it was meant to be. Almost immediately we found an industrial design team in Singapore that had great experience in ergonomic products and devices. And after a year of research and development we had a new intelligent stroller that provided full protection to babies. It was an inspired design, able to adapt in size and shape to accommodate a growing child while all the time protecting them from external pollution. I was so excited we had created something truly unique, it looked amazing and most importantly it kept babies safe.
Editor: It sounds like you were on a roll?
Marinela: Exactly, that’s how it felt. Looking back it was the easy part. From there on the project became more and more difficult. Armed with technical drawings I had to find a manufacturing partner to make the product. I flew all over China, Europe, and the USA. But no one was interested in partnering with us in bringing a new stroller to the market. They didn’t see the need and they thought the costs would be prohibitive. Most were kind but at the same time they sort of implied we should give up. It was just too competitive. I was running out of options until a friend recommended a company in Taiwan that manufactured various electronic devices and moulded plastic products. We packed our bags and headed to Taipei. And it was amazing, they loved the idea and agreed to help bring it to life.
Editor: You talk about mistakes. What were these?
Marinela: it was exactly at this moment that I realized my biggest mistake. Six weeks after the meeting the team in Taipei dropped the bomb, yes they could make the product, but the unit cost would be over $200 and the cost to make all the tools would run to over $500k. I’m quite embarrassed to admit this, but I never thought that the cost of production would be so high making it impossible to sell at an affordable price. I now understand that it’s one of the first things to consider when developing a product, but at the time I was focused on solving the problem rather than on producing something viable. After two years of hard work, it was back to the drawing board.
Editor: Did you start from scratch or change the idea?
Marinela: A bit of both actually. First up I wanted a second opinion, was it really impossible to make my product affordable. I researched companies in the child safety space. Six months later we were sitting in the studio of the leading child safety design firm in the UK. They agreed to review the concept, cost it out, rethinking the design if necessary into an affordable solution. Another year later and our Universal Environmental Protection System was unveiled. It was perfect, the canopy was designed to fit on all types of strollers, the filtration unit protected against pollution, bacteria and viruses and most importantly it was affordable. The whole system could be sold under $250. Within a few months we had a manufacturer in China, prototypes were made and testing began. It was all going so well. Everything was positive. I was convinced that after so many ups and downs were we actually going to launch. Then came the news that our partner in China had closed down. I couldn’t believe it. All the time and effort in developing the prototypes, the knowledge they had developed in order to make the product had gone up in smoke.
Editor: Time to throw in the towel?
Marinela: I began to search out another partner and then came the pandemic. It became impossible to travel, which meant I couldn’t meet with potential manufacturers. So yes, it was time to put everything on hold. There was no choice. I was heartbroken, actually felt very low. I had invested all my savings and put so much time and effort into making it happen with nothing to show for it. And I was a little angry. Just imagine where we would be today, if our protection system had been launched before Covid-19 crippled the world. We would have been able to protect thousands of babies from the virus. It took a while to get my head straight and back to work.
Editor: This brings us to the new skincare line? What was the inspiration for this?
Marinela: Through my travels around Asia and during research into risks to babies I found out that many women, particularly in Asia give up skincare when they get pregnant. They also give up painting their nails and dying their hair. All to protect their babies from harmful chemicals. I started wondering if it was possible to create a range that you didn’t need to give up because it was totally safe. My break came when I met up with a leading lab in Switzerland that specialized in clean skincare. Together with their chemists and a team of medical professionals that I consulted with in the US and UK we formulated an entirely new concept. After nearly three years in development the BubbaSkin was born.
Editor: There are many clean skincare brands on the market today, what makes BubbaSkin so different?
Marinela: My objective was simple. To create a skincare range that was full of goodness, with ingredients your body needs without anything that might be harmful to the baby. I didn’t want the products to just be safe, I wanted them to be beneficial.
BubbaSkin is a healthy alternative skin care line with formulations that are proven to be safe and most important was to make sure they were effective so they delivered the results women want. We’re starting with a hydrating Face Cream, and shortly afterwards we’ll introduce an Eye Serum and Purifying Clay Mask. I’m very proud of the range. We partnered with some amazing medical experts and a wonderful team in Switzerland to bring this idea to life.
Editor: Once again you have go into a category you knew nothing about, can you share your experience?
Marinela: It was fascinating learning about skincare, the ingredients, the science, the whole formulation process you go through to make a product. The BubbaSkin range is unique in several ways. It’s targeted at women to use from the time they plan to conceive right through to after they finished nursing their baby. The formulations needed to not only leverage clean science but I wanted them packed with essential vitamins and minerals which add an extra bonus. It was difficult at first to find the medical advisors to help us and them the find formulations that would be stable and last. I was keen to see no fragrance and the minimum in natural preservatives. It’s interesting that the more natural something is, potentially the more unpredictable it can be. We went through many rounds of trial and error until we found the perfect balance for each product.
Editor: It’s not a medical line but it does have medical endorsement, can you explain this?
Marinela: The line is fully endorsed and recommended by the professionals that deal directly with women before, during and after pregnancy. We’re very fortunate to working with some amazing people. Not only did they provide important medical insights during the formulation, they are also partnering in recommending BubbaSkin through their practices. We’re launching in the USA and then Europe and we have plans to expand to Asia later in the year.
Editor: What’s next for this new wellness entrepreneur?
Marinela: I’m very excited to see how BubbaSkin performs, they are products I hope women will really love using. We’re starting with face products and we will follow up with body and maybe even a line for baby at some point. I’m committed to helping women understand more how being exposed to pollution and other toxins can impact their bodies and their babies. It’s extraordinary how challenging it is to live a clean life. We’re bombarded from all sides. I also want to donate a percentage of our profits to research. Over the years I have developed an autoimmune condition which I’m sure is directly related to the constant environmental attacks we face each day. We’re constantly fighting off thousands of chemicals in our bodies. It starts with making the truth available so we can each make our own decisions about how we want to live. The better the research and the more transparent the information people have the easier it is to make good decisions.
TRANSLATED FROM ORIGINAL ARTICLE IN FORBES BULGARIA: