“We’re going for a healthy glow without the harmful effects of the sun, aka sunless tanning,” says Sophie Hennekens, co-owner of ROQUEBRUN. Colleague Chiara Bakker adds: "Dermatologists have been pointing out the dangers of sunbathing for quite some time. Our mission is to raise this awareness and get people to use a natural product to achieve that sun-kissed look."
Start-up ROQUEBRUN holds office at the Nyenrode Business University Incubator in Amsterdam, where students and alumni like Sophie and Chiara find support developing their business ideas into future-proof, successful companies.
Sophie: "During my time as a JVC board member, I met Carlijn Wentzel, director of the Nyenrode location in Amsterdam. She suggested we join the Nyenrode Incubator. An excellent decision: this place provides the social aspects of an office and the network, in particular, is a tremendous help." Chiara explains, "You learn how others approach things, what they run up against, and develop interesting contacts. For example, we’re working with fellow incubator Daily Flowers: developers of an innovative vending machine for flowers."
Business and sunbathing
Sophie and Chiara met during their undergraduate studies at Inter College Business School and together went on to pursue the full-time MBA Program at Nyenrode. Both women wanted to become entrepreneurs. Chiara explains, "Above all, we want to have ownership and flexibility in our work." Together, the pair gained experience by launching a cosmetics box. Chiara: "It was a bust, but we gained a lot of experience. And we learned that we complement each other nicely."
Sophie and Chiara had been vacationing together in Roquebrun in the south of France for years. There, they had regular discussions about whether or not to use sunscreen and the effects of the sun. Sophie: "Chiara would get sunburnt and say: tomato today, chocolate tomorrow." But when Chiara developed pigmentation spots that got worse in the sun, an idea formed: to do things differently but in a healthy way. "Unlike existing self-tanners, we wanted to develop a vegan product with natural ingredients - without parabens, alcohol, and perfume. A product that gives us the tan, but not the harmful substances of a self-tanner or the detrimental effects of the sun."
Test and grow
The entrepreneurial duo had the natural formula developed by a party in England and took a year to test and perfect. Chiara: "We incorporated our personal experience with self-tanners, such as the importance of scent, not wanting to get orange marks, and taking skin sensitivity into account. In addition, through our studies at Nyenrode, we learned all the aspects of doing business. And beyond that, we worked mostly on a trial-and-error basis.” ROQUEBRUN officially launched in November 2021. Sophie: "We have already grown from one order per week to several orders per day. More than anything, we use the power of social media to achieve this. Last week, for example, our sales skyrocketed after a TikTok post by an influencer."
ROQUEBRUN has big ambitions, says Chiara: "We want to become the biggest self-tanning brand in Europe, with our own Research and Development department. At that point, we hope to expand into sun protection products, so we can all continue to enjoy the sun healthily." Sophie: "Right now, our main challenge is building brand awareness and reaching both women and men. We’re also noticing that people have had bad experiences with other self-tanners, making them afraid to end up with an orange glow or marks."
Starting is key
For both Sophie and Chiara, entrepreneurship is in their DNA. Sophie: "My mother breeds horses, and my father is in the insulation business. He taught me it often takes less effort to do something right now than to keep putting it off until later." Chiara: "My parents have a business in railroad materials. From them, I inherited a positive image of what it means to be an entrepreneur, and I learned not to imagine lots of potential problems before they happen." When asked to give other entrepreneurs some advice, Chiara says: "You just have to do it, and not overthink things. Start, and the pieces will fall into place. Or not, and then you try something else." Sophie adds: "Indeed: just go for it. But put in the time and effort. Things will not happen by themselves.”