Founder Profile

Marygrace Sexton

Orchid Island Juice

For acing the clean juice market--long before clean juice was a thing.

When Marygrace Sexton started Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice in 1989, the natural juice landscape was parched. The only citrus juice on the market was Tropicana or concentrate—both pasteurized for longer shelf life. Freshly squeezed citrus juices on a wider scale simply didn’t exist. Sexton, based in Fort Pierce, Florida, sources oranges of above-average sweetness for her juice, which is also free of preservatives and artificial ingredients. “I believe in whole foods and real nutrition,” Sexton says. “When [my daughter] Natalie came in, she put right on the [carton]‘There’s only one ingredient in here.’”

 

By chance, Natalie’s started an e-commerce site in January 2020, just before Covid hit, which helped the company do well despite losing most of its restaurant clients. The company also launched an at-home sampling program via giveaways and referrals. “What sells Natalie’s is our quality and taste,” says Natalie Sexton, who is the marketing director as well as the source of the company name. Natalie’s has added some unusual flavors over the past year, including pineapple kale zinc and orange beet. Both are selling briskly; the orange beet juice, marketed to athletes, is one of their top six sellers. In all, revenue rose by 6 percent last year to $67 million. Not only was Marygrace able to keep her entire staff on, she even bought fruit from growers whose usual buyer, a competitor of Natalie’s, walked away from its contract. “We care very much about the growers,” Marygrace says, “so we bought the additional fruit and just did a steep promotion.”--Hannah Wallace

 

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice lost restaurant partners only temporarily during the early months of the pandemic.

Company Information
Location
Fort Pierce, Florida
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Sharmi Albrechtsen

Smartgurlz

For giving homebound kids--and their parents--a smarter pandemic learning tool.

From 2017 to 2020, Sharmi Albrechtsen, chief executive and founder of Smartgurlz, whose programmable toy robots teach young girls computer science and other STEM skills, focused on building sales. In 2020 alone, she planned to attend 15 major trade fairs to help bring her award-winning robots to classrooms nationwide. Then Covid-19 hit, and every single conference was canceled. Worse still, in March, Amazon “temporarily prioritized” essentials like health care items, making it impossible for Smartgurlz to ship orders for five months. Schools were closed anyway, taking the air out of a deal Smartgurlz signed in 2019 with Pitsco Education to launch a new product line called Smartbuddies for children in grades third through fifth. Summer camps were closed too, another potential home for her robots. Her brilliant idea: to take the curriculum she developed for the Pitsco project and adapt it to online learning. She dubbed it camp-in-a-box, and by the end of last summer 250 kids were enrolled. “We didn’t buy any Facebook ads. We just put out a press release, and Good Housekeeping covered it,” says Albrechtsen. She also appeared on Good Morning America. To Albrechtsen, her company’s biggest accomplishment has been adapting to the new normal. She says: “We showed innovation through adversity and were able to help thousands of children during the pandemic.”--Jill Krasny

Company Information
Location
San Jose, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Christina Carbonell

Primary

For redesigning kids clothes for the 21st century.

Christina Carbonell grew up admiring inclusive, colorful brands like Benetton, and learned the ropes of e-commerce in the marketing department of Quidsi, the parent company of Diapers.com. So, although the pandemic blindsided her, she instinctively knew that Primary, the cult kids clothing brand she co-founded with Galyn Bernard in 2015, was well prepared. “We did recognize that value would be more important than ever during Covid-19,” says Carbonell. The company ran a 50 percent-off-essentials sale from April through July 2020, and though the sale hurt margins in the short term, customers remained fiercely loyal, making 2020 a very good year for Primary. “We delivered $74 million in gross revenue, up 40 percent versus the prior year,” Carbonell says proudly, with about two-thirds of sales coming from repeat customers. Carbonell credits Primary’s guiding philosophy—making affordable, comfortable, high-quality essentials for every kid—with helping it thrive in difficult times. “All those things that were core to our mission were more relevant than ever once Covid started,” she says. Products that have always been strong performers, like pajamas and sweats, have done especially well. Pajamas, for example, comprised almost one-fifth of Primary’s kid clothing sales last fall and showed the highest growth rate of any category, followed by masks. Another win: scoring a coveted wholesale partnership with buybuy BABY, launching next March.--Jill Krasny

Company Information
Location
New York, New York
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Galyn Bernard

Primary

For redesigning kids clothes for the 21st century.

Galyn Bernard grew up admiring inclusive, colorful brands like Benetton, and learned the ropes of e-commerce in the marketing department of Quidsi, the parent company of Diapers.com. So, although the pandemic blindsided her, she instinctively knew that Primary, the cult kids clothing brand she co-founded with Christina Carbonell in 2015, was well prepared. “[2020] was a year to double down on the things that were the most important to us,” says Bernard, who scrapped plastic poly bags for compostable hang tags and fasteners and poured money into developing new sustainable materials, such as heather cotton and cozy cotton spandex. “We’re very much fabric-forward,” says Bernard. She also loves the organic rib fabric that Primary uses in a number of baby products and its matching family pajamas. Bernard used the quarantine to advance Primary’s goals of diversity and inclusion by tapping parents who were professional photographers to style and shoot campaigns with their families at home. Bernard credits Primary’s guiding philosophy—making affordable, comfortable, high-quality essentials for every kid—with helping it thrive in difficult times. “We’re not focused on fashion or trends,” says Bernard. “It’s about having a core assortment of clothes.” Another win: scoring a coveted wholesale partnership with buybuy BABY, launching next March.--Jill Krasny

Company Information
Location
New York, New York
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Sofia Elizondo

Brightseed

For unpacking the power plants can have on our health.

The Covid-19 pandemic is the sort of biological challenge that Sofia Elizondo’s company, Brightseed, was born to address. The San Fransisco-based research company created Forager, an artificial intelligence tool that maps plant compounds, which are remarkably complex, to learn how small plant molecules called bioactives might impact human health. Covid fueled the commercial interest in what Brightseed might discover by exploring the 99.9 percent of plant compounds that are as yet unknown. The company hit its revenue goals, both last year and this year. The team also closed a $27 million funding round. "In spring of 2020, we didn't know what financial markets were going to be like. There was so much uncertainty," says co-founder Elizondo. "But we continued to surround ourselves by really awesome investors who get how we want to grow the company and the impact we want to have. And in the middle of all of that I had a second daughter. So it was not only growing the company and the team, financing the company, and quadrupling our partners—but it was also like doubling the size of our family all at once. It’s a chapter that I'll look back at and probably think, what on earth was I thinking?"--Anna Meyer

Company Information
Location
San Francisco, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021