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Alumna’s cosmetics startup focuses on natural ingredients

All-natural eyelash serum originated in an MIT dorm room

August 5, 2015

Wink co-founders Megan Cox and Miguel Salinas

Wink co-founders Megan Cox and Miguel Salinas

While still an undergraduate business major at MIT Sloan, Megan Cox, SB ’14, invented a formula designed to make eyelashes grow. Cox, who considered majoring in chemical engineering, concocted the formula in her dorm room in 2012, and first tested it on herself and her friends.

She marketed the startup, known as Wink Natural Cosmetics, through a grassroots effort relying on those same friends, including co-founder Miguel Salinas, SB ’16 (Brain and Cognitive Sciences), who also worked on the product’s branding and package design.

Today, the company is headquartered in Cox’s hometown of Bedford, Indiana, and the formula, known as Wink Eyelash and Eyebrow Enhancer, is available for purchase on its website and through other online retailers, where it sells for approximately $39.

MIT Sloan recently caught up with Cox, who, since graduating, spent time at an accelerator program in China and is now working on the Wink startup full time.

What inspired you to invent an eyelash serum?

I was having issues with too-short and not enough lashes after overuse of lash extensions and temporary “falsie” lashes. None of the over-the-counter products on the market worked for me, and I couldn’t accept the risks that came with using [the other products], so I decided to make my own natural product.

What ingredients make your serum different from others on the market?

Eyelashes only grow during their “growth cycle” and stop growing after a period of time. Most of the products available on the market use peptides, which try to lengthen this cycle and give lashes more time to grow longer. Wink uses essential fatty acids, which the body needs for healthy skin and hair, but cannot produce on its own, to nourish dormant follicles. The essential fatty acids come from natural nut and seed oils.

How did you test the product?

I got together a group of students who used the product every night. They were not asked to change their hygiene or makeup habits otherwise. Every Friday we met in my dorm’s suite and one of my friends—who was a biological engineering student with experience in cell-counting—counted and recorded each individual’s lash number and length each week.

What were the results from this testing?

Eighty percent of the testers saw an increase in the length of the lashes (an average of 14 percent length increase) and all of the testers saw an increase in the number of lashes by the end of the test, with 20 percent more lashes on average.

Besides the Indiana headquarters storefront and the Wink website, where is the serum available?

If you go to our website, we have a salon and store map. Otherwise, we sell through The Grommet, Time for Me, and Amazon.com.

Wink Eyelash and Eyebrow Enhancer

 

Will you expand Wink Natural Cosmetics’ product line?

Yes! We just started consumer testing on a second product for brightening and preventing aging around the eye area, and we have been looking into the best way to potentially turn Wink into a hair regrowth serum. But first, we are changing the formulation to be both 100 percent organic and vegan by early 2016.

What did you learn at MIT Sloan that has helped you start a company?

The best classes I took were Introduction to System Dynamics and System Dynamics II. The classes combine theory with the real world, and allow you to quantify what is otherwise seen as qualitative. Since graduating, I also participated in two startup accelerator programs for another project I was working on. I took part in the MIT Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator and HAX Accelerator in Shenzhen, China. Both allowed me to learn a lot about business, marketing, fundraising, and what it really takes to run a business.

What’s next for you?

I’m moving back to China. Although our formulation is manufactured in the United States (and we will always keep it that way), it is hard to produce packaging in the United States. Even if you use a U.S. company, they will coordinate with their factory in China. I have been using Chinese suppliers since I started the company in 2013, and I want to coordinate the packaging production myself.