Black Dog Venture Partners has taken an equity position in Sober Roots, a minority-owned, St. Petersburg-based beauty brand that represents its founder’s triumph over adversity.
Scott Kelly, CEO of Black Dog Venture Partners (BDVP), announced Monday that his company acquired a 20% stake in the startup that offers alcohol and chemical-free products. Kelly will assume the role of interim CEO and chairman of the board for Sober Roots.
Monica Smith, founder of Sober Roots, launched the brand after overcoming drug addiction and cancer. Kelly met Smith at a BDVP Fast Pitch event and found her ability to turn negative experiences into a successful business idea inspiring.
Smith told the Catalyst the added capital would support marketing efforts, create distribution partnerships and help her expand Sober Roots’ line of natural products.
“The vision behind the product is definitely to try and help support people that may have gone through trauma, hair loss or cancer, and that may be in the recovery process,” said Smith. “And the other part of the growth, eventually, is to add some research to help with learning natural ways to help hair grow back.”
Smith, who is bi-racial, moved to St. Petersburg from Connecticut in 2001. She became a single parent at 17 and experienced drug addiction and homelessness before getting sober in 2012.
She then decided to help others and began working for the St. Pete Free Clinic’s women’s shelter. However, her life was upended when doctors told Smith she had colon cancer, in 2020.
Surgery and six months of chemotherapy followed her diagnosis. The treatments resulted in Smith losing her hair, which she said crippled her self-esteem.
“The damage that it took on my skin, my hair, my nails – everything was different,” she explained. “Even though it’s from the treatments, it just takes a toll on you mentally.”
At the time, Smith wanted nothing more than to grow her hair back without using products containing alcohol and unnatural ingredients. She noted that alcohol dehydrated her already dry, brittle hair, and after 10 years of sobriety, Smith wanted to avoid using alcohol in any form or concentration “at all costs.”
In addition, she relayed that chemotherapy treatments essentially pumped her body full of poison. Health care providers and the onsite stylist at Moffit Cancer Center told her to avoid using hair products with an abundance of chemicals, something Smith quickly realized was no easy task.
At a low point in Smith’s life, inspiration struck.
She began researching essential oils that aid hair growth. A chance encounter with someone donating organic skincare products to the Free Clinic led to a partnership with a local manufacturer. Smith launched Sober Roots in 2021, and her first product is a leave-in conditioner formulated with natural oils and ingredients.
She now hopes to continue raising capital to expand her product line, and Smith relayed that she is experimenting with shampoos and other conditioners. Kelly declined to disclose the terms of his investment but said he is already deploying funding to increase distribution and brand promotion.
Smith will pitch Sober Roots to additional investors during a Feb. 2 BDVP Fast Pitch event. Both she and Kelly envision the St. Pete startup becoming an international hair care and beauty company.
While Sober Roots’ products are for anyone, Smith believes people recovering from addiction and cancer could be a niche market.
“In recovery, they believe alcohol to be like an allergy to alcoholics,” she explained. “And they don’t know what is going to trigger that allergy. If we can have a product where we don’t take that chance – that would be nice.”
Smith said she could “absolutely” see her story inspiring others at the beginning stages of overcoming similar experiences. In addition to her product line, she would like to create a message board of sorts where people can share their stories and tips and serve as a support network.
She hopes to collaborate with local healthcare providers and rehabilitation centers to spread the word about her story and product. Eventually, Smith would also like to utilize students from local colleges to research what natural ingredients provide the most hair and beauty benefits.
“Even on a small scale, if you can help one person, it makes it all worth it,” she said.
For more information on Sober Roots, visit the website here.