How the natural pigments in marine life inspired a beauty products startup

Northeastern graduate Camille Martin poses for a portrait at The Engine in Cambridge, Mass.
Camille Martin’s development of a second startup earned her newest venture a $5,000 Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

While earning a PhD in chemistry at Northeastern, Camille Martin worked with Leila Deravi, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, who had been exploring the pigments and proteins of marine life for six years.

Martin recognized an opportunity to develop beauty products drawn from marine ecosystems.

Martin and Deravi co-founded Seaspire Skincare, a promising 2019 startup. The headway Martin was making inspired fellow budding entrepreneurs to contact her for insight and advice. As a result of those relationships, Martin formed Alexandria Growth Brands, a Massachusetts-based business that supports aspiring entrepreneurs seeking to launch technology-based companies.

In support of her efforts, Martin has received an inaugural $5,000 Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative. The awards recognize 19 women who are graduates or current students at Northeastern. The organization is distributing a total of $100,000 in grants to help fund 17 ventures. 

Martin didn’t envision becoming an entrepreneur. 

“All of my early efforts were focused on building a great resumé to secure a job at a multinational beauty company,” says Martin. “I never thought I would be able to execute the type of work that I’m doing now—leading a raw material company and thinking about how we can support emerging brands.”

Martin was a Northeastern PhD student when she co-founded Seaspire Skincare, which develops new ingredients inspired by marine ecosystems that can be used to treat cosmetic and chronic skin conditions. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Her career plans shifted when she connected with Deravi. Their partnership resulted in the filing of two provisional patents within their initial three months together.

“We had been working on studying color-changing animals like octopus, squid, and cuttlefish,” Martin says. “They’re known to rapidly change their appearance in regards to their texture, color, and shape. We were initially interested to see how a molecule that is found in these animals could be used as a new colorant for cosmetics.”

Deravi would become scientific advisor of Seaspire. Martin, the chief executive officer, focused on commercial applications of the science with support from Kevin Scanlon, a professor of practice in entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern.

“She [developed] a business plan, investor presentation, and customer survey of the product,” says Scanlon, who has been advising Martin for several years. “Camille is one of the best entrepreneurs that I have met at the university—intelligent, a balanced personality, and she listens carefully.”

Seaspire is in the process of selling its proprietary ingredient blends to partners who may apply it to their product lines, says Martin. Along the way, she has been applying the lessons of her startup to counsel the three entrepreneur teams that may sign on with Alexandria Growth Brands.

“Women are my premier target group,” says Martin. “But I also hope to expand to other people who may also be underserved for entrepreneurship. It may be a racial demographic; it may be by location, to help people in rural areas.

“This capital,” she says of her $5,000 Innovator Award, “is going to go toward helping these groups.”

Martin hopes to build a long-term relationship with Women Who Empower.

“I look forward to further developing relationships with the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Northeastern and creating a pipeline to engage with the students,” says Martin. 

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