How Barbara Paldus is bringing biotech to beauty.




Barbara Paldus

Biotech beauty is a beautiful fusion of science and nature. Biotechnology is technology based on biology that harnesses cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products that helps to improve our lives and save our planet. Companies use this technology to discover, develop, and produce components of cosmetic formulations and to evaluate the activity of these components on the skin, in particular, how they can affect the changes associated with aging. One of such companies is Codex Beauty.

In March 2018, with the vision of blending the sciences of ethnobotany, plant biology and biotechnology to create a new standard - plant-based biotech beauty - Barbara Paldus founded Codex Beauty. The company is grounded in science, dedicated to supporting the microbiome, and pioneering products having clinically proven, meaningful skincare benefits. Their core mission is to demonstrate that not only is quantitative data about all aspects of the products important for making progress in the beauty industry, but customers can make fact-based decisions in purchasing functional products at the best possible price. The company has locations in the US, Ireland, Singapore, Australia, and China.

We sat down with Barbara Paldus, mom, engineer, entrepreneur, VC, Ph.D. (with over 40 patents), founder and CEO of Codex Beauty to learn how she is innovating skincare and improving the beauty & wellness industry.

Bringing data, science, and transparency to skincare
Barbara Paldus: “The “clean” movement has all but destroyed science. I started Codex Beauty to bring data, science, and transparency to skincare. We are leading the way in adopting a scientific and data-driven approach to ingredient sourcing, product safety, product efficacy, and overall sustainability, to maximize customer satisfaction and trust. Our goal is to provide skin solutions that work. We are not here to make money by selling a lifestyle, story, or guesswork. We solve skin issues. Our first collection (Bia) is optimized for skin hydration; our second collection (Antü) addresses skin inflammation. All of our products are microbiome-supporting with a negative carbon footprint.”

From Ph.D. to CEO
Barbara Paldus: “I have a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford, and I have been a serial entrepreneur for over 20 years. I have started two companies, one in environmental monitoring and the other in biotechnology, each of which has now reached over $100M in revenue and changed its marketplace. And I love to write patents – of which I have over 40 now.

As a baby, my son had a severe allergy to phenoxyethanol in baby products. This led me to try to ask questions to manufacturers, but I didn’t get very far as a consumer. It turns out that phenoxyethanol is perfectly safe, and a few rare people have allergies, but I started questioning every claim on my products and wondering – having spent most of my career developing measurement tools – how the beauty industry quantified anything. After I sold Finesse Solutions in 2017, I decided that the beauty industry needed greater transparency, as well as quantitative benchmarks for product performance. I discovered that many practices in the skincare industry do not yield the most potent ingredients, or do not follow the quality practices of regulated industries. Plant-based ingredients hold so much potential, but the extraction techniques, stabilizing methods, delivery systems, and analytical tools are not on the same level as biotechnology. We can leverage biotech fermentation to produce concentrated ingredients in a highly sustainable way.

The biggest challenge was finding executives in the beauty industry who could adapt to the Silicon Valley culture of technology, science, and innovation, and keep pace with rapid growth and change. It took me three years to finalize my team.”

“The “clean” movement has all but destroyed science. I started Codex Beauty to bring data, science, and transparency to skincare. We are leading the way in adopting a scientific and data-driven approach to ingredient sourcing, product safety, product efficacy, and overall sustainability, to maximize customer satisfaction and trust. Our goal is to provide skin solutions that work.”

Against all odds
Barbara Paldus: “I could not agree more about the “what does not kill you makes you stronger” statement. Some of the challenges that I came across prior to launching Codex Beauty include: I have overcome being told that as a Ph.D. woman I could never lead a company as a CEO, raise venture capital or build an enterprise that didn’t manufacture in China; I have had larger competitors disparage my start-ups as non-viable entities in front of key customers, and supply chains cut off by partners; I have been in situations where my company had less than six weeks of cash, where we had frivolous legal threats or distributors try to cut us out of the market. And despite this, every time, we found a workaround. I was the first woman to be award the Adolph Lomb Medal from the Optical Society of America in 2001, paving the way for future women to win the prize.

The key skills that helped me were the ability to learn quickly and work very, very hard. Also, my ability to forgive both my mistakes and those of others, move on quickly but learn from the experience was critical. As a female leader, I have learned these lessons: Focus on solving problems-Sometimes, you have the break it down into bite-size chunks; Don’t let your emotions get in the way-Always remain objective; Treat people right- Every human, irrespective of age, gender, race, orientation, or beliefs, deserves respect. People are smarter than you think. What you put in is what you get out; Do the right thing- It's the hardest path but the only way to keep the trust, ethics, and integrity of your team intact.”

Breaking down barriers for women’s leadership
Barbara Paldus: “As a little girl, I was a huge fan of Marie Curie. To me, she was a symbol of brilliance, passion, science, and self-sacrifice (driving mobile x-ray machines around the battlefield hospitals of WW1 knowing the consequences of radiation exposure). And, she broke the Nobel Prize glass ceiling. She once said, “I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.” Many people imagine breakthroughs as moments of genius or inspiration. They imagine that if the world had immediate equality, all of their problems would go away. The reality is that breakthroughs take incredibly hard work, tenacity, and many failures along the way. Marie made it very clear about setting the right expectations: be patient and persevere. While we need to make equality a priority, changes will not happen overnight, and in some cases, may never happen.

Women in leadership roles often feel more scrutinized and held to a higher standard than their male counterparts. The biggest challenge is to define our own style of leadership, which is unique, and to have the confidence to continue to use it. In the end, the results will speak for themselves. We also need to build the next generation of female leaders and train them. They will face different challenges than our generation, but if they are well prepared to face them, they will succeed and carry out my generation’s legacy. Thus, every generation will move the needle forward until there is no more needle to move.

As a venture capitalist, I have funded and continue to fund female-founded and female-led start-ups. These make up 60% of my portfolio. Many of the current start-ups have young female founders who need a mentor or advisor, so I spend a lot of my time teaching. I also donate to organizations that allow underprivileged women to enter STEM and give STEM lectures at high schools. As for Codex Beauty, I have built a team that is 75% female, where senior executive leadership is 80% female, and where we have diversity. Women occupy roles of CFO, General Manager Codex Beauty Europe, and Sr. VP of Operations for example. Our goal is to mentor and train the next generation of executives at Codex Beauty.”

Finding balance
Barbara Paldus: “Time with friends and family- parents, spouse, children, cousins, grandparents - is a very grounding activity. I spend time with my son and we do things together. It is a constant challenge to maintain balance. I am really not a good example of this as I tend to push work to extremes and find myself on the other side of burnout. But it must be done with deliberation and force of will. I now block segments of my calendar and have explained to the organization that this is my son's time. If he has events, I schedule those as well. I also volunteer at his school and block out time for play dates. Finally, I make a point of calling my 80-year-old parents every evening. COVID-19 has reinforced that time with loved ones is precious and should never be wasted.”

Saving The Earth
Barbara Paldus: “I would love to inspire a movement of reduced consumption. This goes counter to being an entrepreneur where growth is everything but it is necessary to save our planet. We consume too much junk, and we produce too much garbage. We are not meeting our carbon emissions goals and we are killing plant and animal species at a ferocious rate. I would like for people to become more mindful consumers: do you really need that pair of shoes, that new car, that newer cell phone, more toys, and gadgets, extra food? Will you really wear it, use it, eat it, play a lot with it? I would also like to see how people can renew the use of old things and recycle.

I am deeply concerned about climate change and biodiversity, which include indigenous peoples. We are not doing enough to support them and preserve their knowledge. What is next in my life is becoming a supporter of these causes. I want my legacy to be that I was a small part of reversing global warming, that I helped clean up the oceans from plastic, and that contributed to averting the great dying of species on this Planet.”

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