Perk: The Natural Beauty Lab upcycles fair-trade, used coffee grounds from local coffee shops to create natural skincare products.
Precious Drew’s reserved, yet bubbly personality naturally attracts people to her. Yet, she has a bit of a contrarian streak. “I’ve always challenged the norm and enjoyed debates arguing the less-popular opinion, whether I agreed with it or not,” Precious says. “I liked the challenge of being able to fully understand and argue for opinions I don’t exactly agree with.”
Precious likes to defy expectations. “I grew up in a household with seven siblings: six older brothers and one younger sister. I never really followed what my brothers did. From a young age, I knew that I had control over my destiny and that no one would do the work for me. I am the first of my siblings to attend and graduate from college.”
Precious does not allow others to define her. “Growing up in low-income, inner-city environments, I witnessed many of my peers fall behind and get left behind by the educational system, community, family, and friends. People gave up hope and deemed them less than, unworthy, and unable. I heard the negative statistics about the communities I come from. I knew that I didn’t want to be a part of those statistics.”
She points to her mother as a positive role model. “My mother inspires me. Despite our circumstances living in poverty, she always made a way and kept a smile on her children’s faces. Growing up, I would describe my family as highly mobile. Before moving back to Minnesota during the last two months of my freshmen year of high school, I had changed schools over 13 times. My single mother prioritized living in safer, less violent neighborhoods.”
Precious knew she was more than her environment. “I wanted to show my family, friends, and community that we could accomplish so much in life despite our circumstances. It would take a lot of hard work, self-advocacy, support, and determination. But I knew it was possible. Society often forgets, dismisses, and downplays the true potential of low income, inner-city black, and brown kids.”
Precious realized early on that others were looking to her to be an example. “With a younger sister looking up to me, I had no choice but to strive for nothing but the best. Between my hard working single mother, younger sister, and the negative statistics that indicate I shouldn’t have accomplished half the things I’ve done at 22, I found a lot of purpose throughout life.”
An Idea Begins to Percolate
It seems that Precious always had a side hustle. “In middle school, I established a revenue-generating partnership with YouTube, making videos for my favorite young musicians,” she says. In high school, she was deeply involved in the National Black MBA Association and Junior Achievement. Her LinkedIn profile is littered with achievements from Upward Bound to Enactus to Hip Hop LDN.
While she was a student at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, Precious attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany. When she returned, she began spreading the message about climate change. She soon found that “Just talking about it was not enough.” She began to change her personal habits, but still, she wanted to do more.
In her junior year of college, Precious participated in a highly-selective entrepreneurship program, the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship. It was there that she met her classmate, Lucy Cervino. “We wanted to identify things around campus impacting students that we thought we could make better,” Precious explains. “Being college students, the answer was easy: coffee, a product that a majority of students consume. There were many efforts to recycle the container or use a reusable cup. However, we found that no one was putting efforts toward minimizing wastes from their morning cups of latte.”
Solving Two Big Problems
Americans love their coffee. According to The National Coffee Association, we consume 400 million cups of coffee per day or 146 billion cups per year. But what happens to the spent coffee grounds? The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 260 million metric tons of coffee waste are added to landfills every year. As coffee breaks down, it releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is 35 times as potent as CO2 as a contributor to global warming.
At the same time, Precious and Lucy worried about the disturbing number of chemicals used in skincare products. Reading the ingredients in beauty products was like a chemistry lesson. Ingredients like BHA, BHT, coal tar dyes, dibutyl phthalate, parabens, and triclosan were far too common.
Precious and Lucy wanted to take on these two big issues at the same time. They came up with a natural skincare product utilizing coffee waste. In 2017, they co-launched the for-profit venture, PERK: The Natural Beauty Lab.
“PERK aims to defer the amount of coffee grounds being sent to landfills while also addressing the growing concern among women about the alarming amount of chemicals in today’s skincare products,” Precious explains. PERK now sells an all-natural coffee body scrub through e-commerce and pop-up shops.
A Student-Led Startup
With guidance from the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship, the two cofounders followed a systematic process, yet they were flexible in how they applied it. “Early on, we conducted a feasibility analysis, concept tests, and sampling sessions with potential consumers. Additionally, we participated in pitch competitions on-campus and in Denver to spread the word. From there, we partnered with on-campus coffee shops to spread the word about our company. Once we launched, we began pushing those interested in our products to follow us on social media.”
As a Junior in college, it was not easy to launch a new venture. “As a college student, the biggest challenge was balancing schoolwork, an on-campus job, and dedicating the needed time, effort, and patience it takes to start a business. Each month, my co-founders and I would allocate a portion of our campus work-study paychecks to invest in starting the business.
“The hardest part was creating a skincare product that met the needs of many skin types but also producing a product that each of the co-founders agreed on. With different ideas of what the final formula should be for our first product, a body scrub, it was a challenge to find the magic product we all agreed on. Ultimately, we decided that we probably wouldn’t all agree to one formula, but we needed to put something on the market and to see what happens. We did just that, took customer feedback, and adjusted where needed.”
An Ecosystem of Support
Precious recognizes that she had a lot of support along the way. “From mentorship to networking opportunities, and speaking opportunities,” she recalls. She points to “the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship, Wallin Education Partners, Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, City of Minneapolis’ Urban Scholars Program, Leaders of Tomorrow Program, and FINNOVATION Lab.”
Precious received mentoring from Paul Marsnik, Steve Schwarz, and Margrette Newhouse of the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at Saint John’s University. She also says she had access to dozens of mentors the center provided.
The Journey Continues
Precious was recently selected as a FINNOVATION fellow. She received a living stipend, co-working space, and mentorship. She is using this time to explore the possibility of getting products into spas, retail location, and boutiques shops.
When asked to pass along a piece of advice for early-stage entrepreneurs, Precious responded “Don’t let your age be the obstacle that stops you from pursuing entrepreneurship. Whether you are 12 years old or 60, it’s never too late nor too early to make a difference in your community.”
Social Entrepreneur Live!
This interview is one of four concuted on the evening of October 10, 2018. The event was called Social Entrepreneur Live! It was hosted by Acara, a program of the Institute on the Environment and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. The event was part of the Twin Cities Startup Week. Special thanks to our guests, Acara, the University of Minnesota, and those who came out to see us live.
Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Precious Drew:“We bring that circular economic model from the beginning of the lifecycle of the coffee bean to the coffee grounds.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “In America alone, we consume over 450 million cups of coffee in one given day.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “You can only imagine how many coffee grounds are going to the landfill and contributing to global warming.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “No one was paying attention to the waste that came from simply making that cup of coffee.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “With my co-founder’s love for beauty and my passion for sustainability, we created PERK.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “It’s a year-and-a-half program, and you’re expected to launch a business.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “It started as four of us, but in the end, there were two.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “We realized that no one was capitalizing from the waste from the coffee.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “We’re getting ready to roll out new packaging and marketing.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “We started from the ground up. We did it ourselves.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “We have an all-natural face and body scrub on the market.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “As the true millennial that I am, I went to YouTube.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet “Don’t let age deter you from pursuing entrepreneurship.” @OnlyOnePDrew @perkbeautylab Click To Tweet
Social Entrepreneurship Resources:
- Perk: The Natural Beauty Lab: https://perkbeautylab.com
- Perk on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/perkbeautylab
- Perk on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/perkbeautylab
- Perk on Twitter: https://twitter.com/perkbeautylab
- Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship: https://www.csbsju.edu/center-for-entrepreneurship
- FINNOVATION Lab: https://finnegans.org/finnovationlab
- Acara: http://acara.umn.edu
- Book: Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs: https://tonyloyd.com/book