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Hardship to Hope: Cancer Survivor and 9/11 Widow on Carving Opportunity

Self

Talk to an entrepreneur of any age, ethnicity, financial background or gender, and they'll likely be able to name more than a few moments that changed the trajectory of their life, both personally and professionally. From deals that went sour before they had time to get off the ground to a disheartening divorce that made getting out of bed for a 9 a.m. board meeting that much more difficult, those who are often the most successful are the same ones who learn how to battle the toughest of demons.


Meryl Marshall, founder of Hynt beauty, has had her fair share of trials, including two major events – she is both a breast cancer survivor and a 9/11 widow. These irrevocably life-changing experiences have made her stronger, and the battles she's fought her way through are what inspired her to create her own line of clean, green cosmetics that is growing at a rapid speed.

Meryl Marshall

Based in New Jersey, Marshall has a cult following on Instagram, which she uses to showcase the line of clean, luxe ingredients. This innovative businesswoman, however, has her own story to tell that extends far beyond what's kept in the bathrooms of women across the country. She also harbors a courageous drive that propels her forward, no matter which obstacles she encounters.

Prepare yourself, because you're about to be astoundingly inspired by this gutsy entrepreneur:

You are such a survivor. How did you stay strong after 9/11 and the cancer diagnosis and subsequent battle?

When asked to reflect on myself, I think of how resilient I am. I have had to endure the tragic loss of my beloved husband Robert on September 11, 2001. It was indeed a very dark period of my life. I was widowed at the age of 42 with an 11-year-old son. I had to deal with the loss of my husband as well as the aftermath of a major world event. I was barraged with people constantly coming to my home to console me and reporters calling. I was interviewed by many, including Katie Couric and The New York Times, where my story made the front page.

I was blessed to meet my husband Craig – a widower with two young sons. We fell deeply in love and vowed to take care of each other and our sons. We married in May of 2004 and six months later, I found a lump in my breast. I was shocked when the test results came back and it was indeed malignant. Though we caught it early, it was a fast-growing type of cancer that required aggressive treatment. I endured surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Needless to say, that left me with three frightened kids at home who had already lost one parent.

Craig took such loving care of all of us, and that was when I realized that despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges in life, I had one great guy and three amazing kids in my corner. And so, I was lucky twice.

Were these turning points the catalyst to starting HYNT?

Yes. I was devastated when I received my diagnosis and thus began my journey of questioning numerous things, such as the food I ate, cleaning products I used, lawn and garden products I owned, as well as the products I spread on my body. I did extensive research and realized that many of the products I was using were potentially harmful to myself and my family.

I started making small changes and eventually transitioned to a healthier lifestyle, which included scrutinizing products on the market. I did find healthier makeup, but it was extremely difficult to find the textures and colors I was accustomed to in elegant, luxurious packaging. Clinical white and wood may connote green beauty, but they were not appealing to me.

I wanted to create a brand that expressed the message of trust and love – a brand that can be relied on for pro-makeup-artist level quality, in gorgeous, sexy packaging, that adhered to a strict blacklist of ingredients that were unacceptable in the formulations.

HYNT Beauty Products Courtesy of HYNT

My husband Craig and I infuse our passion into our business and truly love the interaction we have with our customers. We also enjoy working with our dynamic, creative team that keeps Hynt humming soundly. We are also philanthropic by giving back to various organizations that support those going through cancer treatment, a cause that is close to our hearts.

What was the hardest part of starting your own company?

The hardest part of starting a company is the amount of time and dedication required. My husband and I can work very long days and often for hours during the weekend. We still have a relatively small staff to delegate work to so it is often confusing whether we are working on our business or working in our business. We know the difference and we are always fine tuning the process. Craig and I mutually respect one another and play different roles in our business. We work well together and we support one another in problem solving.

Another challenge is the high MOQ's (minimum order quantities) that we must purchase, especially in packaging. The packaging sits waiting to be filled with product so that it can be sold but when you are first launching a company, you can't fill and sell 20,000 of a particular eye shadow shade overnight. And thus, a lot of money ends up sitting on shelves.

We aim to run our business frugally, but one needs to be wise on knowing where to spend the budget when there is a decent ROI (return on investment). The priority of these expenditures is changing all the time while there are changes in the way people purchase product.

Even though the business and its mission to share healthier cosmetic options are my passion, I must stay motivated and keep stress to a minimum.

What do you wish someone had told you before you became an entrepreneur?

I wish I was told how much money it takes up front to do things right. For example, money is required to build a better website, a stronger SEO, for consulting, and hiring and maintaining the top team members. They are costly, but the results are unquestionable. And with time or additional investment, they bring back far bigger returns.

How's business?

This is a very exciting time for Hynt Beauty. We are encountering slow but very steady growth. The green beauty industry is here to stay and we receive calls and emails all the time hearing how someone tossed all their conventional products and are starting anew with clean products they feel confident in using. HyntBeauty.com is a thriving e-commerce site that has accumulated over 13,000 subscribers since its launch one and a half years ago.

We are cautious as to who we sell to and how. We learned that there are many challenges selling in brick and mortar locations.

We are still trying to get the line into certain markets. We have amazing partners with other clean beauty e-commerce sites. We have all learned that an expanded sampling program is crucial for the customer to 'try before you buy' which transfers to a high percentage of return to site for a full-sized purchase.

What's next?

We are currently completing our EU Certification. We have several International distributors lined up. We are already selling very well in the Nordic countries.

We are continually trying to improve our packaging sources. I am working hard to secure U.S. manufacturers that can make the same cosmetic packaging that we currently purchase overseas. It is generally more costly but if it makes sense, we try to negotiate for sharp pricing.

Most of our packaging is recyclable, like the proper safe plastics and glass. Eventually a refill program for certain products will be incorporated into the line. We minimize the amount of printing we do in the office and use biodegradable paper when we do print. We even use biodegradable green-line plastic bags for our sample program. We are constantly looking to improve Hynt Beauty and remain dedicated to honesty so that it can continue to be trusted and loved.

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Health

How This CEO Is Using Your Period To Prevent Chronic Diseases

With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.


For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.

Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."

There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."

“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"

-Anna Villarreal

Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.

How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.

So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."

To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."

These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.

A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.

To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."

How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.

Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."