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Mel Lewis founder of Ultrella, featured in NZ Entrepreneur publication’s innovation nation series

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Business Hawke’s Bay are thrilled to showcase Hawke’s Bay innovators and entrepreneurs in NZ Entrepreneur publication’s innovation nation series.

Here’s the first entrepreneur, the wonderful Mel Lewis founder of Ultrella.

What problems do you solve and what products or services do you sell?

Here at Ultrella, we solve physical problems such as sweat and B.O. They may seem like trivial niggles and nags, but they have the power to derail your day.

We are producers of innovative body products. Our hero product is the first natural deodorant in NZ and Australia (and the rest of the world, as far as we know) to be able to reduce sweating naturally. We achieve these results using a natural Botox alternative that has been clinically proven to reduce sweating by 36%.

Who and where are your target customers?

Our target customers lead busy, active lives. It’s important to them that they don’t use toxins in the products they use on their bodies and in their homes, but product efficacy is equally important. They’re located all across New Zealand and more and more are located overseas now too.

How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?

Back in 2018 I started making and selling my own natural deodorants. It came about because I couldn’t find a natural deodorant that worked. It started out as a passion project and has grown from there. 

During a summer holiday last year I had a lightbulb moment, and decided to develop a natural deodorant based on my customers’ feedback .

I didn’t have the technical skills to produce the products, so partnered with a leading product formulator. I applied for, and won, a Callaghan Innovation grant to help cover the R&D costs.

Starting this business has really empowered me and given me so much added confidence, and now I truly hope our products help our customers in the same way.

What are three things about your business that you are proud of?

Launching at a time of great uncertainty and selling out the first production run of one of our products during lockdown.

Successfully creating a first-to-market product, in a fast growing category, from our base here in Hawke’s Bay.

That we’re taking responsibility for our packaging decisions and waste streams.

How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing? 

At the beginning all our growth was organic. Now, we are using a mix of social media and email marketing and getting PR advice.

Be very clear about your ‘why’, just as clear about who your target consumer is and then speak to them authentically and honestly.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?

It would be financial resources or lack thereof. As a start-up, we have to watch every single dollar.

What is the biggest entrepreneurship lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of progress.

How has your business adapted to the challenges of COVID-19?

We’ve only been in business for one quarter, but it’s been such a busy three months, that it feels more like three years.

Pre-Covid our sales plan was split B2C and B2B, Luckily for us, we already had a slick Shopify store ready to go so we made a quick pivot and turned our full attention to our B2C side of the plan. In this instance, being small and nimble worked in our favour.

What are you plans for the next 12-18 months

We have experienced rapid growth in our first quarter. Our plan now is to consolidate that growth, building market share in NZ. We are also commencing market validation into export markets with NZTE. This week we are sending out our first export order, which is a really exciting milestone.

The big question is how we will finance this growth and we’re working through our options right now.

Has being in Hawke’s Bay made a difference to your business?

Yes, most definitely.

Prior to moving to Hawke’s Bay, I lived in Dublin, London and Sydney. In each of those cities, I spent a sizable portion of my time commuting. In HB, I can put that time to much better use – either on my business or being with my family.

Having Te Mata Peak on our doorstep is amazing. I aim to get up there most days as it gives me thinking time and does wonders for my mental and physical health.

There are amazing resources in Hawke’s Bay. The Hawke’s Bay Business Hub has been an invaluable source of help for me including the CO.STARTERS programme for start-ups facilitated by Business Hawke’s Bay. Other business owners are also really supportive here too. That’s the thing I love about doing business in Hawke’s Bay. Pretty much everyone will give you five minutes of their time, or longer, if you offer to buy them a coffee. (Top tip, ask for it super hot, so it takes them longer to drink it!)