Stem cells: an overview

I spent this past Sunday at the Les Nouvelles Esthetiques tradeshow in Philadelphia. I walked the floor, met some great spa industry people, got to speak French with my girlfriend Christele de la Haye, the LNE marketing director, and, most fun of all, got to speak at the General Session. Thank you LNE for inviting me! For those of you who couldn’t be there, I thought I would give you a summary of my presentation, which was on “Stem Cells: An Overview.”

What are stem cells?  Stem cells are undifferentiated cells characterized by self-renewal (they can multiply to produce new stem cells) and by differentiation: upon exposure to tissue-specific biochemical signals, they turn into tissue-specific specialized cells. They play a key role in tissue development and regeneration.

There are two major categories of stem cells: embryonic and adult.

Embryonic stem cells have the extraordinary potential to form all tissues of the body. They can be found in the early embryos (human embryos between 0 and 3-5 days) and are also present in the umbilical cord blood collected at birth.

Adult stem cells have been found in most tissues and organs of fetuses, children, and adults, including the skin. They contribute to tissue quality and ensure tissue renewal. Adult stem cells are somewhat less powerful than embryonic stem cells, as they are already “pre-determined”, i.e., engaged in a certain direction for differentiation. Their potential is thus more limited: for example, adult stem cells cannot reproduce a whole organism.

In adults, stem cells are not randomly distributed, but are concentrated in tiny regions called “niches”. In the skin, “niches” are found in hair follicles which maintain skin stem cells in a non-differentiated state. The epidermis stem cells are essentially located in the erector muscle of hairs. Skin stem cells may migrate either towards the surface of the skin to replenish the epidermis or towards the basis of the hair follicle to give rise to its constituents. Skin stem cells also continuously renew the skin.

There is one third type of stem cell – plant stem cells, which have increasingly been of interest to the beauty industry. Like human skin, plants contain stem cells that are located at their apical and root meristem. The meristems are composed of stem cells capable of generating an entire organism. Plant stem cells are found in those regions of the plant where growth takes place. There are nearly inexhaustible reservoirs of undifferentiated cells capable of self-sustaining and of providing precursors for differentiated cells.

It is therefore possible, from only small fragments of a plant’s meristem, to create multiple copies of the same plant, as well as to produce plant stem cell extract. Why should we care about plant stem cells? Well, plant stem cell extracts have already an anti-wrinkle effect on human skin (in vitro and in vivo).

Plant stem cell extracts likely contain natural growth factors that will be of interest in future cosmetic developments, an interest that is being confirmed by preliminary clinical results from various sources, and by cosmetic companies integrating these ingredients into their products.

You can read more in the September issue of Les Nouvelles Esthetiques.

 

 

Tomorrow is my birthday

Tomorrow, October 19th, 2010, is my 33rd birthday. Which means that tonight feels particularly wonderful, like an early Friday evening, before the week-end has officially begun, but with the expectations of great things ahead.

Tomorrow will be a great day, filled with some of my favorite things, including work (of course!), a BFF, my current favorite playlist, gorgeous shoes, and champagne (of course).

While I was initially supposed to spend tomorrow in DC with my someone special, I am instead spending tomorrow in Abingdon, VA surrounded by special people. Tomorrow and Wednesday marks the true beginning of Alchimie’s partnership with Universal Companies, the leading US spa distributor. While we signed our contract on the 21st of last month, tomorrow is when the real work begins. I will be spending two days at the HQ training the entire Universal Companies team. I have been working on the training content for weeks; I have been working on this relationship for years; I cannot imagine a better birthday present than to spend the day with them, a true step to taking my business to the next level.

With me, sharing this experience and this momentous birthday (on Wednesday, can I still say I am in my early thirties, or am I know in my mid-thirties?) is one of my favorite people in the universe, my business partner and BFF Catherine Littlefield. She has been by my side since 2004, she has seen Alchimie Forever grow, and has always believed in it as much as I have. She knows what this means to me, to our brand. And she loves birthdays. I can’t wait to celebrate my 33rd with her.

I have always been of the mind that my birthday is special, no matter where I am, no matter if I am working, not working, with family, without family. Tomorrow, in addition to being with the Universal Companies team and Catherine, three specific things will make October 19th, 2010, special to me.

First, I will wake up and immediately turn on my current favorite playlist, tunes by Goldfrapp. I will play them loudly, at 5:30 am, in my hotel room (sorry, neighbor!), and prance around to the sound of them, before even having coffee. I might even sing along a little. How can a day that starts with this music not be a great day?

Second, I will wear my birthday present from my someone special, the most gorgeous sexy shoes I have ever owned. Thank you my BFF Kassie from Simply Soles for carrying this pair of Bruno Maglis. I know I should save them for evening celebrations, but tomorrow, I will wear them all day long! How can a day in those shoes not be a great day?

Third, at dinner, I will have champagne. Of course. Veuve Cliquot if I can find it in this remote area of VA. If not, any sparkling wine will do. And whatever it ends up being, the bubbles will taste absolutely magical. How can a day that ends with champagne (or bubbly) not be a great day?

I can hardly wait for October 19, 2010.

 

I am a pen and paper kind of girl

I am a pen and paper kind of girl. I have always known that about myself, but this week was reminded of that fact by my girlfriend Anne. I started to wonder about why nice notebooks, specific colored pens (of specific thickness of course), and a paper calendar are so important to me. I owe it to Madame Menegay…

When I was in middle school, she was my favorite teacher. She was super strict on everything and on one thing in particular: how we took notes and how we underlined our notes. She taught us the hierarchy of note taking (roman numerals, numerical numbers, capital letters, small letters). For example:

– Football

1. AFC

A. East

a) The Patriots

b) The Miami Dolphins

B. West

2. NFC

– Baseball

I am sure you all see how the hierarchy works… of course, back then she was teaching French, History, and Geography… We had to underline our notes – that was the process to be used to review class material before exams. We had to have different colored pens, underline with a ruler (the Roman numeral categories were underlined twice), and underline particularly important points with a squiggle line.

This might explain my obsession with paper and colored pens. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Blackberry, but for calendaring, I can’t bring myself to replace my At-A-Glance calendar. I have been using them since 2003 (and of course keep all of the old ones). I love being able to see my week on two pages – it gives me an overview that I can’t get on a screen. I color code my appointments and at the end of every week, I do something I learned from Deborah Szekely, founder of Rancho La Puerta. At the end of every week, she looks at her calendar and color codes various activities retroactively. I have three different colored pens to group the week’s activities and meetings in three categories: the meetings that contributed to your professional development or development of your business, the activities that contributed to your personal enjoyment, and the tasks that I should do less of. That enables me to visually get a sense of how I am spending my time, and if there is too much of the “do this less” and not enough of the “personal enjoyment” then I shift things around the following week. How would all of this visualization and color coding work on an electronic calendar?

I was at a luncheon with Anne a couple of weeks ago, and the subject of paper / pencil versus electronic preferences came up. I told her about my complex calendaring process, and she seemed surprised… yet intrigued. This week, she emailed me and wrote that she had been mulling over my system, and was considering going back to paper, and would I let her know what type of paper calendar I use, and next we get together would I show her my color coding system. Yes and yes!

 

Lessons learned

I received the best introduction ever today. I was about to present at the networking luncheon for Work It Girl Networking, when the founder and CEO Teresa introduced me as the “world goddess of skin care.” May I please put that on my business card?

Work It Girl Networking brings working women together during lunch, which always features a female guest speaker. Past speakers have included Pam Sorensen, Kate Michael, Sara Damelio, and more. Today, I spoke, thrilled to be in such great company.

I was going to speak about starting a skin care business, but I have had such a momentous week that I drew inspration from recent events. On Tuesday, I signed a distribution agreement with a fabulous company, putting into place a partnership that will take Alchimie to the next level. (By the way, the headling of the Washington Post that day was the the Great Recession was officially over. Coincidence?)I have been working on this partnership for four years, very intensely for the last six months. On Tuesday, after signing the contract and having a glass of champagne, I thought about how I got there, and reminded myself of the key lessons I have learned over the last 5 years of launching, growing, and running Alchimie Forever. (And I have some new quotes to share – so many of you emailed me your favorites after my September 6th blog, thank you!)

Lesson 1: Be nimble, shift direction when necessary, and don’t get so emotionally attached to your strategy that you can’t change direction. Another way to say it: stubborn is great, stupid is not. When I started Alchimie Forever, I thought the only way to build sales was with an in-house direct salesforce. No one else could be as passionate about Alchimie as someone on payroll. I went down that route, but then realized that it indeed wasn’t the best strategy for us, and instead turned my attention to finding the right distribution partner.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Albert Einstein)

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall hoping to transform it into a door.” (Coco Chanel)

Lesson 2: Be persistent. Always follow-up. Never give up. Don’t nag, but don’t forget either.

The first time I contacted this distributor was in 2006. I sent products and our press packet, but the timing wasn’t right. Over the years, I stayed in touch with them, updated them on new developments, paid attention to shifts in their team, developed and nurtured new relationships. “One day…” I thought.

“I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.” (John D. Rockefeller)

Lesson 3: This is linked to the second lesson, and involves dealing with rejection. When someone tells me “No” I translate this in my head as “No, thank you so much, not today.” Deal with rejection gracefully, and never burn any bridges.

“The only way to deal with rejection is by shining.” (Diane Von Furstenberg)

Lesson 4: Dream bigger. A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that the average revenues of women-owned businesses are only 27% of the average revenues of men-owned businesses. The author says “it starts with the goals.” Women need to set bigger goals for their businesses. This reminded me of my favorite business book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, and his concept of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. One of my BHAGs for 2010 was to land that distribution deal. And to think, we are only in September!

“The starting point for all achievement is desire. Keep this constantly in mind.” (Napoleon Hill)

Lesson 5: To achieve a BHAG, one must take risks. People often say that entrepreneurs love and embrace risk but my tolerance for risk is actually not that high. 16 months ago, I increased my overhead by signing a 5-year lease for our beautiful showroom. I invested in the redesign of the space. I spent many sleepless nights thinking about the insanity of expanding during the worse economic recession I can remember. What if this? What if that? Yet, it was the right decision. It brought new visibility, new credibility to my brand, to my business. And I know the distributor noticed…

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” (Wayne Gretzky)

“Leap and the net will appear.” (John Burroughs)

 Lesson 6: Personal and business values must be fully aligned, especially for entrepreneurs whose businesses and personal identities are so linked. As I was working on the mission and value statement for Alchimie Forever, someone close to me asked me “Are Alchimie’s values yours? Are yours Alchimie’s?” That question was the inspiration for the development of our corporate responsibility strategy, which involves donating part of our proceeds to the arts in general, and to the Corcoran Gallery of Art specifically.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” (Ghandi)

Lesson 7: This may be the most important one, and a lesson I continually have to remind myself of. Forget about perfection. Women in particular struggle with perfection. We (maybe I should say I?) were raised to be the teachers’ pet. Get the best grades, hand in the best projects, always look pretty. As adults, we try to be the perfect business person; the perfect wife; the perfect mom; the perfect friend. Perfection doesn’t exist, and we should all just admit that and move on.

“Ring the bells that still can ring, forget about the perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light comes in.” (Leonard Cohen)

 

Switzerland, more than chocolate and skin care

Today (yesterday by the time you read this) was both a great day and a sad day. Any day that involves a luncheon at the Swiss Ambassador’s Residence, hosted by the Ambassador’s fashionista wife Ronit is a delightful day. Today was particularly magical, as she was able not only to bring together the crème de la crème of Washington women, new designs by Isabel Toledo, narrated and explained by the designer (and her number one fan, her husband Ruben) herself, but the sun was sparkling and the sky was turquoise – important when the lunch is taking place on the beautiful terrace of the Residence, and when ether-real cloud-like textile decorations seem to hang from the sky.

Favorite quotes

As a CEO, one of my key responsibilities is to give my team, my shareholders, my customers, faith, encouragement, and inspiration. Sometimes, that is a responsibility easily fulfilled. Sometimes, I need to stand on the shoulders of giants and borrow from their words of wisdom. Here are some of my favorite quotes from people whom I admire and wish I knew, or had known. Funnily enough, compiling these made me realize they can be grouped into themes… themes of my life.