Lisa Walsh, BA’93, B.Ed.’93, is an entrepreneur, chief formulator, educator, N.L. crusader, beauty expert and alumna. Indigena, the skincare company she started in 2009, is a consequence of that diverse experience and talent. Combine her personal journey, along with a collaboration that’s uniquely Memorial, and it’s clear that success is undeniable. Her focus is providing an exceptional experience with natural skin, body and hair products from what she describes as the purest ingredients on the planet—ingredients from the land and sea of Newfoundland and Labrador. Ms. Walsh shared her story with Gazette contributor David Penney.
DP: Tell me about your background. How did you get started in this business?
LW: I’ve been interested in beauty and fashion for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Bay de Verde, my aunts and grandmother, Mom Noonan, often made perfume tinctures from plants and flowers. I remember doing that and collecting botanicals before I went to school. I officially started working in the industry as a hair designer when I was 18, which is how I put myself through university. I stayed in that line of work after I graduated from Memorial and eventually owned two salons in St. John’s and one in Old Perlican. Unfortunately, I got very sick—my doctors told me my illness was because of exposure to chemicals in the beauty industry for so many years—and I had to change careers. In 2001, while I was recovering, I decided to create beauty products that were natural and effective and I believed I could do it with local ingredients.
DP: What was the next step? How did you figure out the science behind Indigena?
LW: We started working with Memorial’s Botanical Garden, who collected the plants we wanted to test, and then started building our academic research on these plants that flourish in the harsh conditions of this province. We believed the antioxidant ratios in them were much higher and we set out to prove that. The company was still in its infancy when a mentor of mine, Roderick White, who was also my first angel investor, helped me connect with Memorial’s Department of Biology through MITACS. At the same time, we also began an Industrial Research Assistance Program through Canada’s National Research Council with Amit Negandhi who had studied pharmacy at Memorial. Finally, we approached the Research and Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador to complete a voucher through MUN, which is a program that helps businesses gain access to research resources and expertise.
DP: What did you discover through your research?
LW: We decided on 37 plants for skincare that could be locally sourced, were edible and had very high antioxidant potential. Our research has strengthened our products efficacy and we are currently patenting a new extract blending process. We have created an age prevention botanical blend that provides an exponential rise in antioxidants, which is incredible for the skin. We’re also working on acne and sensitive skin formulas.
DP: How has Memorial influenced you?
LW: This university is the DNA of my business. In addition to the collaboration with Biology and the Botanical Garden, I’ve been fortunate to work with SIFE [now Enactus] on several marketing projects through Memorial’s Faculty of Business Administration. And I took a lot from my time as a student at Memorial. My degrees taught me a lot about critical thinking, about language, communicating, the art of listening. I rely on these things every day. My teaching skills are integral to educating my customers and staff. I wouldn’t be where I am without those skills.
DP: What’s next for Indigena?
LW: Sustainable growth from coast-to-coast and eventually export into the U.S. and the Caribbean is our goal. Currently our distribution model is changing, we have secured our vendor approval with Loblaw Companies Ltd. and our product will roll out in the Atlantic region this year. It’s very exciting to build a manufacturing business in Newfoundland and Labrador and create a natural health product facility that is creating world class intellectual property in the cosmetics sector.
To learn more about Lisa and Indigena, please visit here.