Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Communications Specialist, Iowa JPEC

Curiosity doesn’t just kill the cat; it can also leave a noxious odor on the dog.

In this case, the dog is Bella, a golden doodle belonging to University of Iowa senior Nicole Relias. Bella is a curious gal, often investigating stray skunks when the meddlers wander onto the family’s wooded yard in Arlington Heights, Illinois. After Bella was skunked — or sprayed — again, and again, and again, Relias took action.

“Every time it happened, we tried something different to remove the smell,” Relias said. “Nothing worked.”

So Relias came up with a plan that she and friends Jackie Molloy and Shayna Reznikov developed in an entrepreneurship class in 2016 when Relias was a sophomore at Buffalo Grove High School. The outcome was Skunk Aid, an all-in-one de-skunking kit that provides pet owners with everything needed to safely and effectively remove skunk oil from their dog.

“One of our main components is that it is all natural and it won’t harm the dog,” Relias said. “A lot of other products on the market will harm your dog.”

And it works. Skunk Aid has been sold in at least 25 states (mostly via Amazon) and is carried by Illinois retailers Ace Hardware, Bentley’s Pet Stuff, and Chalet Nursery. The two-pound kit sells for $24.99 and includes wet shampoo, dry shampoo, non-latex gloves, shammy drying towel, and disposable comb. The shampoo contains sodium chloride, sodium bi-carbonate, and cornstarch. Customers enjoy the fact that the product is together in one box and easy to use.

Relias, who is majoring in marketing with a minor in communications, has received national, regional, and local publicity for her product. Skunk Aid has seen air time on the Today Show as well as articles in Chicagoland newspapers, the Daily Herald and Tribune. Relias has a goal of continuing to grow the company, but she realizes that running a business and being a full-time college student isn’t an easy double.

Receiving assistance from the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC) has helped.

“I have learned a lot,” Relias said. “All the different components of business I never realized when I was in high school. Things you have to do I didn’t think of, like taxes. All the resources offered through Iowa JPEC is cool. I have tried to take advantage of those things, including graphic design.”

Relias is one of many women thriving within Iowa JPEC whose accomplishments will be celebrated during Women Entrepreneurship Week beginning Nov. 8. For her, the week has special meaning.

“Being a woman and an entrepreneur, I try to help and give back to other female entrepreneurs because we have different challenges,” Relias said. “I want to help other female entrepreneurs succeed.”

At the moment, there are no new entrepreneurship ideas on the horizon for Relias. Her father ships the existing Skunk Aid inventory from his home in Arlington Heights, while Nicole tries to connect with and branch out to retailers, including those in Iowa.

The family is fortunate to have plenty of supply on hand at home. As for Bella, well, she almost single-handedly keeps Skunk Aid flying off the shelves.

“She never seems to learn,” Relias said. “She is probably our No. 1 user.”