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Sea of opportunity

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Autumn Blum was struck with her latest business idea during a 2014 scuba diving trip in Palau.

While sitting in the boat in the western Pacific Ocean, Blum noticed a big oil slick in the water surrounding a group of about 100 snorkelers. She paid close attention to it for the rest of the week. Blum's discovery: It was from their sunscreen.

With a background in organic chemistry and experience starting and selling companies, Blum immediately approached the problem with a business mindset. “I was trying to find the next thing, and I just knew this was it,” she says.

When Blum returned from Palau, she mulled over the idea. Eventually, she was ready to pursue it. She quit her job with healthy product manufacturer Nutraceutical Corp. to begin working on her own product line.

In August 2015, Blum officially launched Stream2Sea, a skin, sun and hair care product line “concerned with what goes on the body and into the environment,” she says of the company's mission. “I knew what was safe for the body,” she says. “The aquatic standards were much different.”

Specifically, sunscreens are incorrectly labeled as coral reef safe, largely because it's a “very loosely regulated” sector, she says. Oxybenzone, an ingredient found in more than 3,500 sunscreens, has proven to come off of swimmers and pollute coral reefs, according to information from a study by the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory. Blum and Stream2Sea also cite research from the National Park Service, which says between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters into reefs each year.

Blum, who grew up in Sarasota, operates her business out of Hardee County, 50 miles east of Bradenton, because of economic incentives officials offered her there. That includes more than $640,000 in funding provided by the Hardee County Industrial Development Authority in return for at least 10 fulltime jobs by June 30, according to public records. The company has seven employees, plus four more who work indirectly though the manufacturer, and Blum says all the products are produced and distributed through the relationship with Hardee County's incubator program.

Blum says consumer education is a crucial task as she works to grow her business.

For one, the dangers of sunscreen to coral reefs isn't widely discussed and likely not at all considered by beachgoers on vacation. Regular shoppers of health-oriented stores, for example, might constantly read product ingredients and know what to look for, she says. “Other average consumers look at the SPF and the cute monkey on the bottle.”

Blum plans to take the standard routes to educating consumers: social media, PR and consumer word of mouth. But persuading non-health obsessed consumers to buy a more expensive — ranging from $6.95 to $16.95 per bottle — product is unlikely. Because of that, she won't be taking the usual route of business-to-business tradeshows. Rather, she plans to target consumers directly through niche retailers, she says.

The company, in the early stages, has grown rapidly, adding 80 new wholesale accounts in the fourth quarter of 2015. She declines to discuss specific sales figures.

Stream2Sea had about 250 accounts at the end of the first quarter. By year's end, the goal is 1,000, Blum says. And as the business scales, consumer education is just one task.
“Finding employees is very difficult,” Blum says. “Staffing is a huge challenge.”

Products available at Stream2Sea:
Shampoo and body wash
Leave-in conditioner
Body lotion
Sun and sting relief gel
Lip balm
Ingredients-to-avoid information card

Follow Steven Benna on Twitter @steve_benna


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