ESTEEM Student Startup: Collegiate Soaps Inc.

Author: Valeria Gonzalez

For most people, going out for Mexican food just results in an overload of chips and salsa. For Natalie May (ESTEEM ‘18) and Thor Nagel (ESTEEM ‘18) a meal at a Mexican restaurant led to an exciting business idea. As Natalie shared her interest in soaps, they considered creating handmade soaps that offer fans, students and alumni soap with the logos of their favorite universities. Once Natalie and Thor decided to run with the idea, they brought on Brady Riesgraf (ESTEEM ‘18) to round out their startup, Collegiate Soaps Inc. 

Collegiate Soaps - ND

Natalie, Thor and Brady have been using the tools taught at ESTEEM to de-risk their startup, especially the constantly repeated motto to “get out of the building.” They have been conducting a lot of interviews to make sure they understand their customers and the market needs. Thor also learned to create soap molds through a Solidworks course offered as an ESTEEM elective. All three students have been surprised by all the positive feedback they have received and how serious they have been taken among other companies regardless of being a student-venture. Even with such great feedback, the team has still experienced roadblocks, mainly a slow licensing process and that production is hard to scale quickly. 

In the spirit of following Notre Dame’s mission to be a “force for good in the world,” Collegiate Soaps Inc. will be implementing a 1:1 model where for every bar of soap purchased another bar will be donated to a local charity, with a focus on homeless shelters. When speaking to individuals experiencing homelessness, a big challenge for them was affording soap and Collegiate Soaps Inc. is excited to provide such a necessity to these individuals. 

Handmade Collegiate Soaps

When looking back at this experience, Natalie would tell her pre-ESTEEM self that “if you think you have a good idea, go for it. Do not hold back, even if you feel like you are lacking a certain skill - you can learn it along the way.” Brady reinforces this by advising his past self to, “not put boundaries on the opportunities you have.” Thor would counsel himself to “keep shooting. If you have an idea, take a swing, because the risks are so low, especially while in ESTEEM. The skills and attributes you will learn from doing what we are taught how to do will be of greater value.”

When looking towards their next steps the team is focusing on securing the licensing for Notre Dame, contacting different universities, finalizing manufacturing decisions, establishing distribution, and optimizing packaging. Collegiate Soaps Inc. is also part of Notre Dame’s McCloskey Competition.