Söliv is a small Seattle skin care company with a breakthrough product line founded on marine biotechnology. Armed with a patented proprietary material and R&D to back it up, the company was ready to hit the ground running. But an economic downturn threatened to cripple the company’s progress. The slowdown in the financial markets motivated the company to turn its attention inward to fine-tune its market strategy and hold tight until investment opportunities looked more promising. A consulting contract with Washington Technology Center’s Small Business Services proved to be a smart move for Söliv and provided the company with an action plan for moving forward.
Söliv develops, processes and markets bio-active, anti-aging skin and body care products. It is the first company in the Northwest to develop marine-based biotechnology products. In 2001 the company completed its initial research phase through WTC’s Research Grant Program in partnership with the University of Washington’s Department of Botany to develop an advanced aquaculture system for cultivating a specific seaweed strain used in Söliv’s proprietary skin and body care products. The goal was to develop a technologically-feasible method for assuring that large-scale supplies of this raw material would be available for product development and sales.
The Research Project
The WTC grant, in combination with support from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), allowed Söliv to develop a successful platform for refining its aquaculture methods along with natural selection and propagation of new strains, each with different properties for skin care products. The result was a raw material base to support an $80M–$100M retail business with 25 products.
With its product line well established, Söliv turned its attention towards financing, marketing, sales and manufacturing. The economic slow down experienced over the past three years had made access to capital difficult, if not seemingly impossible, for small start-up businesses. Without a strong climate for going after investors, Söliv decided to focus on its internal operations and use the downtime from seeking funding to evaluate its positioning strategy for entering the market.
“This time proved valuable for us,” notes Diane Boratyn, president and CEO of Söliv. “We got extremely efficient at doing what we do. We were ready to enter the market yet needed a game plan for transitioning the findings and test market maneuvers into a marketing and investment strategy. We had the elements in place, but saw the benefits of having a seasoned professional help shape our strategy for getting the’edge’ on securing funding,” Boratyn adds.
Enter Washington Technology Center’s Small Business Services expert, Elaine Kong. In late 2003, WTC launched a new branch of its regional and technical services line specifically targeted to assist small- and medium-sized technology companies with financing and strategic planning.
Having worked with WTC through its R&D grant program, Söliv was familiar with WTC’s services and was introduced to Elaine as a resource to assist them with their business strategy.
Elaine has a great deal of experience nationally and internationally in developing business and investment strategies for companies in the growth stages. Her background includes venture capital, startup consulting, and strategic business planning.
For Söliv, the team focused on strategic planning, capitalization planning, due diligence package preparation, stock option research and compensation planning, investor advisory and sales strategies implementation.
“One of our primary objectives for Söliv was to develop a solid marketing and sales strategy,” explained Elaine Kong, manager of small business services for the Washington Technology Center. “For a company in their stage of growth, this is key to attracting investors,” she noted. “They are acutely interested in knowing how the company is preparing to move the product to market and generate revenue.”
Since completing their consulting contract with WTC, Söliv has a solid sales and marketing plan in place, complete with short and long term goals for broadening their customer base, penetrating their target markets and increasing sales of their product. To date, this includes adding four new full time staff and five independent sales representatives. The projected growth for a sales force throughout Washington is expected to increase three-fold by May 2004. The company plans to use recent capital raised to roll-out its sales plan, expand its production facility and increase manufacturing operations.
“To put it simply, WTC’s Small Business Services consulting services helped us overcome the ‘financial paralysis’ stage that a company may face when funding is tight,” Boratyn stated. “Elaine helped position the company to capture its strengths and accomplishments in financial terms and develop the tools needed to attract the most sophisticated groups of investors,” she adds. “Now we’re prepared to deliver a high-quality, attractive presentation to investors supported by a solid growth plan.”
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