Original story by The Telegraph UK.
Last month, Rose Dyson watched as her school friends packed their bags and left Barnsley, South Yorkshire, for the country’s top universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and Durham.
At one point, having secured straight A star and A grades at her GCSEs, it looked like Rose would follow suit. But in August, the 17-year-old achieved two C grades and a D in her A levels.
She wasn’t disappointed, though: earlier in the week, she had been recognised by Transferwise as one of their ’20 under 20′ – Britain’s 20 most promising young entrepreneurs – and awarded a top prize of £10,000 to invest in her business.
“It’s not like I’ve been lazy and spent every day watching Netflix,” says Rose. “I was trying to do two things at once, which was really difficult.”
On top of full time studies, Rose has been running ethical beauty product business Pura Cosmetics, which she founded when she was 15. The idea came from local enterprise competition, ‘I Know I Can’ Big Challenge, in which school-age children were given £25 and told to design and create a product, then see if they could sell it.
“Cosmetics are so extortionate on the high street and with £10 pocket money per week I just couldn’t afford any full-stop, let alone the ethical products I wanted to buy,” Rose explains. “I wanted to make a vegan product that girls and boys like myself could afford.”
Rose decided to start with a lip balm. She rang local wholesale companies that sell cosmetics ingredients and asked what she would need. From there, she created a recipe that she still brews from the kitchen of her mum’s home.
Selling her initial batch of lip balms at her old primary school’s Christmas fair, Rose earned around £40. “That was my first profit,” she says. “I thought I was rich.”
Since then, Rose has developed a range of 12 lip balms and 10 lip scrubs, which cost up to £4.50 each, a 500 per cent mark up. The products are in high demand, but Pura Cosmetics is currently limited to selling 6,000 per month, the number Rose is physically able to produce. She hopes to increase her output to 15,000, the amount needed for big retailers, using the Transferwise investment – and her new-found free time.
“With Christmas coming, this is going to be our busiest period,” she says. “It’s winter so everyone has dry lips and the sales will be huge for us.”
When Rose told her parents she wanted to continue with the business rather than go to university, her dad was skeptical. “Because I’ve always been quite academic, he thought it was a little project at first that wouldn’t go that far,” she says. “He hoped I would go to university and become a doctor or dentist. But I said, ‘Watch me, I’ll prove you wrong’.”
Being an only child has helped. From a young age, Rose’s parents were eager for her to try everything: she did classes in flute, piano and dance, as well as going to swimming and football clubs. As the business gradually took over her spare time, lifts to the leisure centre became lifts to the local market and time listening to her practise an instrument became time helping to make lip balms.
“Dad takes me to the markets and Mum helps me label,” she says. “They’ve been able to give me a lot of attention and support while they’ve been working full time as well.”
While Rose’s friends study at university, she will be at home working full time alongside her mum, who has taken a 15-month sabbatical from the bank where she works to help out.
“I made the decision that I wanted to do this full time pretty early on, so it made sense to focus on the business rather then A-levels,” she says. “Kids often think university is the way to go as it gives you a degree. But there are other ways to achieve success.”
Rose’s age has, at times, posed a problem and she’s found it “hard to be taken seriously at 15.” There was the time at a local market when a female customer said to her, “You can’t possibly be a real entrepreneur, you’re too young”. The words cemented themselves in her memory and made her more determined.
There was also the time when a stockist replied to her request to work together, “You’re only 16, there’s no way your quality would be high enough to fit in my shop”. Rose sent the shop a batch of her products and, soon enough, the stockist apologised and was selling them on the front counter.
On more than one occasion, people at networking events have mistaken her for being someone’s daughter. And when she tried to open a bank account after the business started to earn money, she was told she was too young. But one of the biggest blows came when Rose was 17 and she was scouted for the 2017 series of Dragon’s Den, only to be told she was too young.
“That can be hard,” she says. “But about 95 per cent of the time it’s absolutely great and people love my passion, my drive and the products. It’s definitely easier now I’m 18 and a young adult.”
Being young has one major benefit: as a digital native, Rose has found it easy to promote her products on social media and sell them online.
“From the start, I never thought, ‘I can’t possibly run my own company’ or ‘there’ll be obstacles because I’m female’,” says Rose. “We’ve got people like Karren Brady [vice chairman of West Ham FC and Apprentice star], Jacqueline Gold [chief executive of Gold Group] and Deborah Meadan [Dragon’s Den investor] who are amazing role models.”
Being a girl might actually have helped Rose strive at a young age. In the school competition, the boys she was competing against who wanted to create a solar-powered phone “couldn’t be bothered so they just sacked it in”. Research from the Entrepreneurs Network last year found that although men are 86 per cent more likely to receive venture capital funding, 36 per cent of male-run companies fold, compared with 23 per cent of those run by women.
When she celebrated her 18th birthday earlier this summer, Rose’s friends gave her the highest accolade. In her card, they asked her to let them know “when we can buy a share” and “when you’ve brought a private jet so we can come for a ride”. One step at a time, of course – for now, she has her hands full with the pre-Christmas rush.