Smile Politely

No water, lots of passion

The University of Illinois is well-known for its engineering program. However, it seems a lot of its engineering students are venturing into other fields. Whether it be cat toys or beauty care, engineering skills seem to lend themselves to entrepreneurship.

James Pikul is graduate student getting his PhD in Mechanical Engineering. In addition to working on very small but very powerful batteries, Pikul also makes moisturizer in his apartment. He is a cofounder of both Petronics and JaD Naturals. JaD Naturals make Jaq and Jim skin care products.

Pikul has Rosacea and Psoriasis, which are skin conditions that lead him to have often have blemishes on his body and face. He wasn’t happy with the products the dermatologists had suggested and consulted his nurse practitioner sister Jacqui. Together they created a product that was both effective and natural. He saw his skin improve within 24 hours. He used the product for two years before the siblings decided to start their own company.

Since starting the company a year and a half ago, the pair has been working on creating a quality product. They’ve changed the name, the packaging, and worked on making the product easy to use. They currently sell three products: a moisturizer, body serum, and lip care product.

Pikul would love to one day sell Jaq Jim products in every whole foods in the country. He is hoping the fact that they don’t use water in their product, and thus do not need to use preservatives, will differentiate their company from other “all-natural” skin care products.

“A lot of natural things can still hurt you,” says Pikul.

In school, Jacqui wrote a paper about the importance of vitamin D, so it was important for her to also include vitamin D in the product. Pikul says a lot of skin care products actually block out vitamin D and that a lot of people are actually vitamin D deficient.

They started by selling in Strawberry fields until it closed. Their products are currently sold in Common Ground, Natural Gourmet and two stores in the Chicago suburbs.

Pikul says the hardest thing is selling to customers who know nothing about the company. He has found when he sells in a store where he can explain it to people, it sells very well. However, the product doesn’t sell as well when it just sits on a shelf.
Pikul first ventured into entrepreneurship when he and a few of his friends started a website when he was a masters student. He says the company didn’t go too far as they were just another group “starting a company just to start a company”. Pikul says he thinks cultural icons like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have made entrepreneurship trendy. It’s a great think to be an entrepreneur, but Pikul says to have success you have to have passion.

“If you start a company, it has to be something that you really really like doing… Time commitment is going to be higher. Your reward is going to be lower initially.” says Pikul.

Another thing making entrepreneurship trendy is the popular television show Shark Tank. Pikul says he and his sister have talked about going on Shark Tank especially since it’s a great marketing tool. However, he said they would want to have a better understanding of the vision of their company before taking on an investment. Pikul also says he isn’t sure how well Shark Tank works out for people. He mentioned a company Simple Sugars that also makes natural beauty products that went on the show. He says he isn’t sure if that company really worked out. However according to an update also aired on the show, Simple Sugars ended up doing $2.1 million dollars in sales in 2013, and the twenty year old founder took home $339,000 for herself. Shark Tank does have its success stories.

Pikul and his sister have some guidance when it comes to running a business. They turn to their father who owns his own business for questions on things like how to do taxes.

Pikul currently makes all the product in house. The packaging, labeling, and ingredients are all shipped to him through wholesalers. He thinks the company has the potential to grow enough to support several employees with livable salaries.
However, I wouldn’t expect Pikul to pull a Mark Zuckerberg and drop out of college to work on his business full time anytime soon.

Pikul wants to become a professor as he says there are lot of scientific ideas he’d still like to explore.

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