Making scents of the fragrance industry

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These days, perfume entrepreneur Will Yin can smell success. Puns aside, for more than two years the young Queen’s graduate has been fighting disappointment and reversals, but now his hard work with Scent Trunk, his custom fragrance company, looks poised to turn that industry on its head.

Yin is quick to acknowledge the help he has received from the people at Innovation Park.

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Back in 2014, Yin and two other recent Queen’s grads were part of the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre, which offers an intensive summer program for would be entrepreneurs, where they develop a concept and then pitch it for actual startup money.

Yin and his partners came up with an idea for a customized perfume company. From studying the industry, they saw that its leaders were saddled with very long supply chains. A particular perfume had to pass through many hands before it reached the customer. The attendant mark-ups made it difficult for the big suppliers to provide anything affordable to customers other than generic scents. By bringing their supply chain in-house and making the perfume, Scent Trunk could offer their customers custom made perfumes at a good price.

Yin and his partners lost the competition, but they didn’t give up. As self-described “penniless students,” Yin says, “We had to find a way to do things cheaply and keep things going.” Innovation Park’s GrindSpaceXL, an accelerator for startups offered a chance.

“We figured that GrindSpaceXL would be a good opportunity for us to get a place to work, maybe even grow the company, although at that point we weren’t really sure what the future held.”

They got more than they expected. “The greatest value for us was the ecosystem. There was a lot of support in that building.” They were assigned mentors and coaches but says Yin, “It went way beyond that. Take Ed Thomas, Queens’ Assistant Director of Industry Partnerships, He loves to help out. That’s not really his job, but he just loves the startup atmosphere.” When Yin’s partners quit, and it looked as if Scent Trunk might fold, Yin was encouraged to keep going by Scott Runte from Launch Lab. “He said, I guarantee that if you don’t work on the startup, you’ll regret it. You’ll look back and wonder what might have happened to it.” Inspired, Yin started rebuilding. Scent Trunk also secured funding through the NRC’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, co-located at Innovation Park.

It’s taken two tough years of fundraising, testing the product and slowly building up a bank of data on what it is people look for in a perfume (scent is highly personal), but today Scent Trunk is on its way. Customers ordering from the company’s all-new website launched in early November are sent what Yin calls a “Fit Kit,” a small box of six bottles filled with what might be called the building blocks of perfume: citrus, floral, amber, aromatic, wood, and chypre. “There’s a card and on it you rate the six scents, whether you loved them or hated them. Then you take a picture of that, text it back to us and in a week, you’re going to have your own personalized fragrance. Each month you can choose something new or you can stick with what you have.”

“Scent is highly personal,” says Yin. “The part of our brain that detects smells is also the part that registers emotions and memory.” As Scent Trunk builds its customer base they are becoming more informed. They are gathering data on people, who they are and what they like to smell. As Yin says, “No one, no other company in the world understands this relationship.”

Using this information and Scent Trunk’s production nimbleness, Yin hopes to branch out – “the plan is to make candles, soaps, lotions.” Scent Trunk has moved out of Innovation Park, into its own space in Kingston, has a satellite office in Cincinnati, Ohio, and now employs eight people, including Yin. He thinks his firm has the potential to become a “multimillion dollar company.”

Scent Trunk may have left Innovation Park, but Yin still keeps in touch with his former mentors there, “although more as friends now,” he says

“Scott Runte, Sam Khan, Ed Thomas, everyone was really helpful. When you are a startup it’s going to get messy and a little disorganized. They were definitely there to help us out.”