When sisters Cory Dahlia Varona Corniel and Nicol Varona Cancelmo were growing up in the Dominican Republic, they were taught that their natural curly hair was considered messy and unprofessional. It wasn’t until they moved to the United States that they learned to truly embrace their natural beauty and curls. Today, the sisters -- both Penn State graduates who attended the Berks campus -- are entrepreneurs, or “sister-preneurs,” who have launched DN Organics, a natural hair care line created to empower women.
Cancelmo uses her education from Penn State as she focuses on marketing the company, while Corniel's two business degrees from Penn State help her to support the business side of their new venture.
According to the DN Organics' website: “We help women transform their lives by instilling confidence in their natural beauty. Our own curly transition and health concerns inspired us to create clean and affordable hair products. We want you to take control of your health by using natural products and encourage you to spend less time perfecting your hair and more time enjoying life.”
The name ‘DN Organics’ is short for Dahlia Nicol Organics, Corniel ’s middle name and Cancelmo's first name. The company officially launched on March 8, 2021, and it is already off to a great start. Their leave-in treatment product and styling gel are currently sold on their website, with their full product line slated to come out by the end of the year. Their products are also available for purchase at both the Bell Tower Salon Spa in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, and Curl Hair and Wellness in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
When asked what inspired the sisters to create the brand, Corniel explains that being diagnosed with pre-eclampsia during her first pregnancy was the turning point that made her realize that she wanted to live a purposeful life and to take better care of her health.
“With a newborn, I had no time on my hands, and I was inspired by my sister who had just commitment herself to revive her natural hair,” added Corniel
For Cancelmo, it was living on her own for the first time that inspired her to embrace her natural beauty. She stated, “I completely changed my way of living to a simpler and cleaner lifestyle. After getting my first ‘curly girl’ haircut, I shared my transition journey with my sister, Cory, and both of us joined forces in our newfound passion for healthy hair. We learned there was much more than sulfates, silicones and parabens affecting hair care and saw a need to share this newfound knowledge. My dream is to make clean beauty accessible to everyone … and it all starts with one small change at a time.”
“DN Organics' products are vegan, cruelty-free, and free of phthalates, phenoxyethanol, PEGs, DEA, formaldehyde and synthetic fragrances,” stated Cancelmo.
They began as social media influencers under the name ‘Curly Sisterhood,’ promoting brands that offer products for curly hair, and writing a blog about how to embrace and care for natural curls. Their passion has always been for empowering women and teaching them to embrace their natural beauty with clean products, and it led them to starting their own brand. The sisters are quick to point out that it has been a long and arduous journey.
Corniel became interested in the science of developing clean hair care products and took courses to become a natural formulator. She and Cancelmo are also enrolled in a pilot program that helps women business owners to earn clean-beauty certification.
Meanwhile, Cancelmo earned a bachelor of science degree in business with a marketing concentration and a minor in Spanish from Penn State Berks in 2013. Corniel graduated from Penn State Berks in 2011 with a bachelor of science in business with a finance and accounting concentration, and she went on to earn a master of business administration with a concentration in finance at Penn State Great Valley.
They began by conducting research online, and soon they found a local laboratory to help them develop their product, which was set to launch in 2019. Then the lab they were working with caught fire and the sisters were back to square one. Undaunted, they found another lab and changed their focus to concentrate on rolling out one signature product at a time.
“The lab sources the majority of the raw materials,” explained Corniel. “The fragrance is 100% natural oils, which we source, along with the packaging.”
They encountered another delay when the coronavirus pandemic hit, putting their plans on hold and pushing their launch back to 2021.
“Even though we launched in 2021, it’s been a work in progress,” stated Corniel. “We’re sharing our story to inspire others to stay determined and never give up on their dreams.”
“We’re excited to educate the community and our customers about clean beauty,” added Cancelmo, adding that in the past, it has been difficult for members of the Latino community, in particular, to embrace curly hair and natural beauty due to societal norms.
In addition to technical knowledge, networking was a must. The “sister-preneurs” made use of the Berks LaunchBox powered by Penn State, Penn State Berks’ innovation hub located in downtown Reading. There, DN Organics became one of the LaunchBox’s co-working companies, using space in the facility and equipment free-of-charge. They also had an opportunity to work with LaunchBox staff members, attend workshops and events, and print product stickers.
Through the Berks LaunchBox, they also received one of five “Grow Your Startup Grants.” The grant helped them to connect with ‘talent partners’ to assist them with taking the next step forward. DN Organics used their grant money to add an online shopping module to their website and for search engine optimization. “Grow Your Startup Grants” are funded by The Marlin and Ginger Miller Educational Endowment for Education, Innovation and Design Thinking made to the Berks LaunchBox.
“The Berks LaunchBox was a great resource. It helped us to find grant opportunities and resources and to identify mentors,” stated Corniel. “We met people who were starting companies at co-working events and had an opportunity to give a virtual pitch for our product.”
The sisters credit both the Berks LaunchBox and Penn State Berks with their success.
“At Penn State Berks, we learned so much about marketing, what it takes to create a company, networking, and support systems,” explained Cancelmo. “Penn State Berks brought students together through organizations like Latinos United for Change. We felt like it was where we belonged.”
Corniel adds that she took two entrepreneurship courses at Penn State Berks and remembers that one of her professors encouraged her to start her own business.
Even though they are now entrepreneurs, both sisters continue to work full time – Corniel as an accounting and financial analyst for Santander Bank and Cancelmo as a marketing manager for SEI Investments in Oaks, Pennsylvania – juggling career, marriage and caring for young children with starting a company.
So what’s next for DN Organics? They plan to continue to launch new products and empower women to embrace their natural beauty through clean hair care. For more information, visit dnorganics.com.
About Berks LaunchBox
The Berks LaunchBox is supported by Invent Penn State — a commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student success, launched by Penn State President Eric J. Barron in 2015. For more information, visit berkslaunchbox.psu.edu or contact Erica Kunkel, Berks LaunchBox interim director, at [email protected] or 610-396-6221.