Written by Andrew Seale
In the midst of her MBA, both Jenise Lee’s aunt and brother were diagnosed with cancer. She’d been considering how to use her chemical engineering degree to elevate public education surrounding harmful ingredients in products.
“That nailed it,” she says. “Before I wanted to do something, then it turned to, I have to, we can't continue being exposed to harmful chemicals day in and day out.”
Both Lee’s aunt and brother died shortly thereafter. She poured all her grief into building CertClean, a certification for safer beauty and personal care products. Today, there are thousands of products across North America certified under CertClean’s rigorous standards.
Lee was no stranger to reading labels. Between having a nut allergy and being a self-described “lifelong environmentalist” (she joined Greenpeace at six-years-old before she could even speak English), Lee has always studied ingredients as a safety precaution.
CertClean joined OCAD University's Imagination Catalyst business incubator in 2015, and Lee was awarded a $50,000 loan from the Spin Master Innovation Fund (a partnership with Futurepreneur Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada). PurPicks, in 2018, received $50,000 in the form of a convertible note from the Imagination Catalyst Fund, supported by Relay Ventures and Globalive.
But CertClean, as it turns out, was only the first step in a wider plan to bridge the gap between consumers and the chemicals they were often unknowingly slathering on their bodies.
After launching the certification, she was constantly being asked by women for recommendations on “clean” products. “I'm Asian, with super dry skin, what works for me doesn't work for you,” she says with a laugh. “(But) no one was answering this question for this niche sector so I set out to build this Trip Advisor-like site exclusively for products that have been certified by third parties, non-toxic, organic, natural.”
PurPicks launched in beta this past July. “We have about 2,000 reviews… more than all the natural and organic products at Sephora and Birch Box combined.”
Brands do the work, asking their customers to consider reviewing the products they like on PurPicks. “We’re seeing month over month growth without spending a dollar,” says Lee. “In every sector, there can be only one (review platform) – we want to be it globally.”
She suspects PurPicks will be a powerful recommendations engine for consumers as they start collecting profile data points. This past spring, PurPicks won the “In Flight” category at Schulich Startup Night, earning the serial entrepreneur further support, mentorship, and funding.
Lee also recently joined Ben Baldwin’s Founder City Project, a group for like-minded founders to connect and support one another in a structured environment. “I can already see and feel the benefits of being a part of that group.”
PurPicks is on the rise, with plans to build a new platform beyond Beta and raise some funding by the end of the year.
“When I was on CertClean I was grieving, that's what I was focusing on while trying to build a startup,” she says. “Now I have a lot more energy, I've bounced back.”
Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)