Ever dreamed of inventing your own product? Starting your own business? Amy Gallant Sullivan, creator of eyecare beauty brand, Eyes Are The Story, did just that.
The ‘aha’ moment came in Paris. Amy was there to talk about the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society (TFOS), where she’s executive director. It promotes education on dry eye disease. “It’s twice as prevalent in women as in men. I was thinking, why is that? Could there be something women do more than men? I wondered, does it have anything to do with mascara?”
She started researching the link between cosmetics and dry eyes. Two decades later, her eyecare beauty range Eyes Are The Story is available online and from more than 100 clinics, optical and dermatology practices in the US, UK and Europe. From mascara and eyeliner to cleanser and serum, every product is formulated for sensitive eyes and skin.
What’s inside the bottle?
Common ingredients in cosmetics that set her alarm bells ringing included benzalkonium chloride. A preservative, it’s used in medicines for glaucoma, which need to reach the back of the eye. The amount used in drugs isn’t a problem. “Eyecare professionals knew the concentrations wouldn’t be offensive to the ocular surface. But the concentration found in cosmetics is many times higher,” Amy says.
It’s not just the ingredients. “Sometimes it’s the application of cosmetics that can impact eye health”. Using eyeliner on the waterline of the eyelid, inside your lashes, for instance. That can “suffocate” the meibomian glands, which produce the oils that stop tears evaporating.
Amy’s background is in finance. She was looking around for a new challenge when her dad, Dr David Sullivan, former associate professor in the department of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, asked her to help build TFOS to bring together experts researching dry eye disease. Talking business with him led to that flash of inspiration – the link between cosmetics and dry eyes.
“I’m not sure you wake up one morning and say, I want to be an inventor. I found an unmet need and realised that nobody else had addressed it. Why couldn’t it be someone like me, who was already working on educating the world about eye health?”
Find your passion
Budding inventors need to ask “what are you passionate about?” she adds. “What can you dedicate yourself to 24/7? If you want to become an entrepreneur, you can’t just snap your fingers and make it happen, it’s blood, sweat and tears.”
Eyes Are The Story is a start up. That means long hours. “I don’t have a typical day because I have this tornado of ideas and so many variables spinning around. You have to bring everything together to make it work.”
You need to find people who can help you, she says. Amy works with designers, lawyers, lab experts and eyecare specialists to develop products and get them into clinics and optical stores. “You can’t be afraid to ask people for help.” You won’t be the best person in each aspect of business, so talk to people who are.
Entrepreneurs have to take risks. “If you want to build something where you have freedom to think and freedom to do, go for it, but you also have the freedom to fall flat on your face.”
Starting your own business is “an adventure”. It’s not primarily about making money – there’s “a long road” before you get to that stage. “It’s about the mission. It’s very energising when an idea you had in your head can turn into something that helps others.”
Young entrepreneurs can get help from The Prince’s Trust. It offers 18-30 year olds training and mentoring, funding and resources.