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How a Men’s Grooming Startup Empowered Me to Become a Stronger Woman

How a Men’s Grooming Startup Empowered Me to Become a Stronger Woman

Laura in her lab

I am a Latin woman. A daughter and a mother. An innovator. And an entrepreneur. I also lead the science and the magic behind the all natural line of grooming products for men at Thrive Natural Care.

My name is Laura Arce. I am the director of R&D at Thrive, creating the potent plant-based formulas found in every bottle, from our face wash and face scrub, to our newest line for sensitive skin.

I am living my dream in more ways than one. And today, on International Women’s Day I want to share how my story became part of our story. A story of a company that empowers women entrepreneurs, like myself, as part of its mission to leave the world better than we found it.

A woman in Costa Rica, an entrepreneur ready for the world

It all started with my curly hair. Frustratingly curly, in fact. While studying in college, I sought natural hair products that could help me manage it. And when I couldn’t find any that were all natural AND effective, I made my own.

In 2002, I won the V National Entrepreneurs Contest, innovation category, with the natural hair products I had created. For more than 10 years afterwards, I would receive further recognition for this work as I kept growing that business with my family at my side, including two beautiful children who are now 8 and 11 years old. Along this journey I have created more than 50 unique natural-based products for hair and skin.

Winner, Health and Wellbeing category, at the National Innovation Congress in Costa Rica

And then in 2013, something truly magical happened. An American came to Costa Rica with an audacious dream to create skincare products from plants native to my country and a business that would improve the vitality of our lands and local economies.

Thrive’s CEO, Alex McIntosh, was speaking my language. I felt like his dream was also my dream. And he wasn’t there to tell us how to do things, he was there to learn, to listen, and to collaborate. His genuine humility and curiosity gave me both courage and confidence. Because when I met Alex and Thrive I was a shy, quiet, and insecure entrepreneur. And yet, Alex saw my true self hidden behind all that. He encouraged me to persevere, to not be afraid to use my voice and to share my opinions.

Alex and I

So when he opened a contest to find his R&D lead in Costa Rica I did not hesitate to apply. I became a little obsessed, actually. Obsessed in the best sense of the word.

Discovering the magic formula

It was beautiful because I was so passionate about the challenge: Design three products (a face wash, face balm, and shave oil) for men’s skin health that are both healthy and effective — backed by science and rigorous testing. With one other key caveat. Use only plant-based ingredients to do so.

It was hard. Really hard. To formulate something relatively effective is easy if you can use any chemical. But Thrive wanted it to be natural. No exceptions. And we wanted both things, natural and effective.

But I like challenges. Especially those so aligned with who I am and the values I live. I had always wanted to make a line of healthy cosmetics that really work, using only truly natural ingredients. My longtime dream miraculously fit into Thrive’s bigger mission. My dream was like a piece of that puzzle.

I worked hard and came up with the theoretical design of the formulas, eventually taking those formulas into my lab. I made some unexpected adjustments there, following my creative instinct.

 My lab, also known as my happy place.

That instinct was fueled by many things. The wisdom of nature, of science, of the indigenous peoples who lived on the land before me. The most important ingredient, however, was passion.

That is the difference between sourcing formulas from a big manufacturer versus someone who is connected to the vision, to the values, to the farmers, and to the plants. That’s the magic. It gets the passion involved. And that’s how the samples were born.

Some of the first ever Thrive samples!

Those samples were winners in the contest. And they would become the first three Thrive products, also the first of their kind offering the skincare benefits of fierrillo and juanilama.

A woman in a man’s world

Partnering with Thrive opened up my professional life to new challenges and new opportunities. Here I was conducting business in English. Here I was Skyping with Thrive’s product gurus. They were all men. But they listened to me. They were eager for my opinion and expertise, and to truly co-create. How different this was from running a business with my family in Costa Rica!

With Art Georgalas (Thrive product guru) at a conference in 2016

In my country, especially in business, a woman generally has less credibility simply because she is a woman. Sometimes in my family business we would have to bring my father along so that we could get meetings, so that people would listen. Things are getting better, but this is still a reality for many women here.

At Thrive it was different. It is different. I had a voice. And suddenly with a voice, I needed to learn how to trust it. Refine it. To be confident in my expertise and in who I was. I have never felt so empowered.

Living happier and healthier, from farm to face

To make natural and truly effective products is in my core. Our team shares this core feeling. It drives us to brainstorm, to merge all this passion in order to bring to life our new products.

I live to surprise and satisfy our customers. All natural and effective? Yes! A moisturizer that works for both dry and oily skin? Yes! Affordable and socially impactful? Yes!

I love reading our customers’ comments and feedback on Amazon. I can feel it, that satisfaction that comes from surpassed expectations. And it fuels my fire to constantly improve what we offer.

This includes our commitment to leaving the world better than we found it. I have here in Costa Rica the opportunity to go to the farms, to meet the farmers whose lives we are positively impacting and whose soil we are continuously improving through our restorative agriculture techniques.

I also work closely with a women-led co-op here, Coopecuna, which provides the juanilama essential oil used in our products. In fact, the founder and leader of the co-op is also a woman, one who inspires me every day.

Investing in people, Thrive’s partnership with Coopecuna

About 12 years ago, Guisselle Monge Mora and others from the community founded Coopecuna to focus on medicinal plant production, ecotourism, and teaching people the importance of organic farming. It was a struggle. Few tourists came to visit them and the business of medicinal plants was not strong.

Enter Thrive Natural Care. We began buying leaves (juanilama) from them in order to produce our essential oil. We weren’t producing this oil within their community, however, so the community wasn’t benefiting directly from that production.

Guisselle and I at Coopecuna

So, led by our Sustainable Operations team, we invested in a distillation unit for Coopecuna. That way, they could process more leaves and we could bring our production more deeply into the community. We could then buy the essential oils directly from the co-op, also encouraging them to produce and sell essential oils to other buyers, vastly improving the income generated for the co-op.

Guisselle brought more and more women into the co-op, providing steady jobs and training. According to her, the partnership with Thrive has helped transform the community, both its land and the quality of life of the people who tend to it. Together, we have planted more than 25,000 plants using techniques which have vitally restored previously degraded soil.

“It is a beautiful cycle,” Guisselle tells me, “And the people feel connected to it. We restore the soil, which helps to grow healthy plants to create high quality essential oil, which generates more income and produces great products, which help people feel healthier and live happier. And the money earned from those products starts that cycle all over again.”

Living the dream

I know this direct contact with our positive footprint makes a huge difference for me and for everyone at Thrive. It adds magic and passion, those special ingredients inside our formulas which travel from Costa Rica to care for the skin of our Thrivers around the world.

I am living a dream come true. Still learning, always growing. Still a dream. We started with 3 products and will soon have 7 on the shelves.

It is fulfilling to see that every day our products are benefiting people and the planet. They are effective, they fulfill our customers’ needs, and they make them happy and healthy. At the same time, they make our land healthier, and our communities stronger.

It is beautiful. And we’ve only just begun.

Laura Arce has been Director of R&D at Thrive for nearly 5 years. Some of her recognition and accomplishments are listed below. If you would like to reach out to Laura, she can be reached at:

  • 2008. 40 under 40 recognition, by El Financiero newspaper Costa Rica. (This annual exam is the tool chosen by EF to highlight outstanding cases of the productive work of the country, led by young people under 40 years.)
  • 2013. Her business was selected as Innovation Champion, national recognition given by the National Ministry of Science, Technology and Telecommunications.
  • 2014. Her business was chosen as winner of the 2nd. National Innovation Congress, on the Health and Wellbeing category.
  • 2014. Selected as a participant on the VV Grow Fellowship program, among 22 other women entrepreneurs from Latin America.
  • 2014. 40 under 40 recognition, by El Financiero newspaper Costa Rica.



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