Buffalo Grove students create Skunk Aid kit
Bella, a 4-year old Goldendoodle owned by the Relias family of Arlington Heights, has a starring role in a new startup company devised by three enterprising Buffalo Grove High School students.
It seems Bella has been skunked as many as four times. When Nicole Relias and other members of her group in her entrepreneurship class last year were offering up problems to be solved, she shared Bella's tale of woe.
Students' startupBusiness: Skunk Aid
What: De-skunking kit for dogs
"When it first happened, we put her in the bathtub and tried to wash it off," Nicole said during an interview last week. "It turns out that water is the worst thing for getting rid of skunk spray."
Her classmates, Jacquelyn Molloy of Buffalo Grove and Shayna Reznikov of Arlington Heights, had experienced similar stories with their dogs, and they began exploring whether a business could be made selling de-skunking kits for dogs.
It didn't take long before their company, Skunk Aid, was formed. Working with their coach and mentor Mike Schiestel of Detail Kitchens in Arlington Heights, and in the incubator classroom at Buffalo Grove taught by Karen Roberts, they built their business model.
"Dogs get skunked most commonly between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.," Nicole says, "just when you don't want to deal with it. So we tried to design a sort of first-aid kit, with a dry solution you could apply right away."
After researching solutions on the internet, the trio tried out different combinations during a simulation they created last January outside of Schiestel's offices. They applied skunk oil to different panels of fur, then checked to see which treatment worked.
What they came up with was a combination of baking powder to absorb the smell and talcum powder to absorb the oil.
The trio now is in the second year of pursuing their startup -- Skunk Aid -- through the school's entrepreneurship class. Through much trial and error, they have created an all-in-one de-skunking kit for dogs.
The kit includes their unique solution -- both a dry and wet version, with refills -- as well as a spray bottle, gloves, a towel -- and, cleverly, a mask to cover the nose while applying the solution.
The two solutions in the kit combine multiple ingredients all measured out and proportionate to each other, the girls say. What's more, all of the ingredients are safe for dogs and will not have any negative side effects.
But they are learning that it takes more than a good product to make a successful business. They are working on packaging, designing a logo and branding, as well as finding distributors who will sell them ingredients for wholesale prices.
They also had to figure out how to process orders they've received over the internet, which led them to opening up a PayPal account and setting up a company bank account.
Shayna, as the senior in the group, has been the one making many of pitches to distributors and potential clients. She found herself having to think on her feet when she contacted Central Baking Supply on Chicago's South Side and learned one of its sales and marketing team members, Amy Martin, was a Buffalo Grove High School graduate.
"It was kind of awkward at first," Shayna says. "I didn't know how to capitalize on that."
But after talking to Schiestel, she found herself calling Martin back and making the case of a Buffalo Grove alumna helping out a startup company launched by current students, and it paid off. Martin provided 50-pound bags of baking soda and cornstarch for free.
"This whole experience has caused us to think deeper and find different ways of solving problems," Jackie says.
Last year, Skunk Aid was chosen as an alternate to go before investors at Northwest Suburban High School District 214's Startup Showcase, where it wound up as the runner-up business.
This year, its founders are out pitching their product to retailers and groomers, and already are fielding some interest from Bentley's Pet Stuff, which has stores in Arlington Heights, Libertyville, Long Grove and Schaumburg, as well as in Colorado, elsewhere in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin.
The students also have drawn interest from officials with Clearbrook about the possibility of having special needs adults help with the assembly.
"If they could land their product on retail shelves before they graduate from high school," Schiestel says, "that would be awesome."
Roberts, who is in her 22nd year of teaching, says the class is one of the highlights of her career in terms of the engagement she sees between the students and their coaches and mentors, and with one another.
"There is so much energy in the classroom that it's contagious," she says. "Students are learning from other students, which is what we as educators strive for."