DeAngelo shows her product. Photo courtesy of Paige DeAngelo.
When Paige DeAngelo, communication '23, first came to Drexel University, she wanted to be a meteorologist and journalist. Then one day, she went to CVS Pharmacy.
Now, she’s an entrepreneur set to officially launch her business this month.
OK, there might have been a few missed steps there in the story of how DeAngelo’s sustainable mascara brand, Aer Cosmetics, came to be and how she placed first from the U.S. among 10 students in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. Let’s back up.
DeAngelo, who was on the Drexel Dance team from 2018–2023 and just accepted a job as a dancer for the Philadelphia Flyers, has been a dancer since she was about two years old. Thanks to dance, she’s been wearing makeup since elementary school and learned how to put on fake eyelashes before she learned how to drive, she said. She was always very interested in makeup, but her career goal was to be a meteorologist and study climate and sustainability.
Drexel was a good fit for that, and when she came to college, she was going to be a journalist and meteorologist. To that end, she researched and reported on sustainability for “Inside Ambition,” the Drexel University Television news show by and for students.
“In my segment, I talked about individual waste, and I was telling everyone how you can reduce your individual waste in ways that aren’t expensive for college students,” DeAngelo said. “I realized I was being a hypocrite because I wasn’t applying those ideas to my own life. I was going through so much [makeup] product, around three to five mascaras every year. That’s where Aer started. Makeup is part of my job and at first, I was just looking for a solution for myself.”
She started looking for refillable, reusable makeup, but only found DIY tutorials. There was no option, especially for her sensitive skin, so DeAngelo decided to try to make one herself — a water-soluble, dissolving mascara tablet that would allow you to refill a tube instead of buying a new one repeatedly.
“That night, I went to CVS with my roommate and got all the ingredients I could think of that would go in this tablet,” DeAngelo said. “I went home and spent the next 12 hours creating this formula, which ended up working, which is beyond my belief.”
Shortly after that, she heard about Drexel’s Entrepreneurship Co-op through a friend who was participating in it, and DeAngelo’s adviser encouraged her to apply. The pieces of her company began to come together quickly.
“During COVID, I was just confused on what I would do next, and this seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity,” DeAngelo said. “Usually, startup founders must juggle a full-time job, course load, or families for me to have the chance to work on this idea in its ideation phase full time was something I couldn't pass up.”
Her first pitch was for the co-op, and she’s done many more pitches since then, some of them at competitions through Drexel, most of them while on her way to the global semifinals of GSEA. (think “Shark Tank” for college students).
In other pitches, she talked a lot about margins, the vegan formula of her mascara and other business aspects, but at GSEA, the focus turned to the founder — DeAngelo herself — and what inspired them to start a business. DeAngelo’s story and the solid business idea she’d built took her to the U.S. finals.
“I was under a lot of pressure and going through a lot of existential brand identity questions and validating my own idea, but I think a lot of positive things came out of it,” DeAngelo said. “I had to be comfortable and confident talking about myself and my brand because the judges can sniff your doubts out. I gained a lot of confidence and a lot more knowledge.”
DeAngelo ended up winning the U.S. national stage and went on to represent North America at the global semifinals. She didn’t make it to the final six entrepreneurs, but she’s grateful for what she learned from Drexel as she worked on Aer Cosmetics through the Entrepreneurship Co-op.
DeAngelo's graduation photos show her at her desk where she created Aer Cosmetics. Photo courtesy of Paige DeAngelo.
When DeAngelo made the decision to work on Aer Cosmetics, she switched her major concentration to public relations, added a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation and moved forward with Aer Cosmetics as her co-op during her sophomore year. The Entrepreneurship Co-op is through the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship and gives a few students a year the chance to work on their own company for their co-op cycle. Students who are accepted into the program receive $19,000 in the form of a scholarship, mentoring from Close School faculty and experienced entrepreneurs and a dedicated workspace in the Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship.
The time in Baiada and with her adviser, Chuck Sacco, associate dean of strategic initiatives and director of the Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship, was what helped take her from pitching her company at competitions to getting down to business and building Aer Cosmetics.
“Chuck has been a huge help in this process,” DeAngelo said. “From the first pitch I've ever done, up until now even ‘post-graduation,’ he has been involved in my progress. I meet with Chuck every quarter and talk about where I’d like to be by the next quarter. He has given me advice on multiple aspects of my company and is always looking out for me and Aer.”
To keep from letting imposter syndrome take over, DeAngelo created an LLC, researched mascara formulas, taught herself CAD (computer aided design) engineering so she could design a refillable tube and other things that maybe weren’t necessary, but helped her get the wheels moving.
“I moved into the incubator [at the Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship] for the co-op and it was great to be in that space,” DeAngelo said. “My adviser, asked, ‘What are your goals at the end of this?’ I was like, ‘I want a physical product in hand.’”
That goal will come true at the end of August, when officially launches. She signed an agreement with a manufacturer in Florida, who’s starting to produce the tablets and solution. It’s a vegan, cruelty-free formula that promotes lash growth, DeAngelo said, adding that it’s also a cost-saver for the customer who only needs to buy one tube for the mascara and then can purchase tablet refills after that.
“One of the most important things to me was that something sustainable should not be a privilege,” DeAngelo said. “It should be something everyone has access to, and it should be something that is of equally good quality as something that isn’t sustainable. Not only are you helping yourself by saving money and having a great quality formula, but you’re also helping save the environment.”
She is now working on packaging and social media rollout with a design team built from five fellow Drexel who studied graphic design and entrepreneurship. Then there’s launching her website for preorders, organizing shipping and getting it into customers’ hands.
DeAngelo is done with school except for a couple classes but summer, so she’s now figuring out who she is as an “entrepreneur” rather than a “student entrepreneur.” She’s excited to see where Aer Cosmetics takes her.
“Hopefully I can bring my knowledge back to Drexel and give back to the students who may be in the position I was in two years ago,” DeAngelo said. “I’m just excited and curious to see what happens next.”