May 11, 2007

Pangea Organics produces ecocentric body care

BOULDER – Joshua Onysko founded Boulder-based Pangea Organics in 2001. Now 29, Onysko called the booming company’s genesis “a long story,” and for a CEO his age, the description is surprisingly apt.

After dropping out of high school when he was 16, Onysko traveled the United States. He then moved to Nicaragua and started working with nonprofits in developing countries.

“I became obsessed with traveling the world for a different education,” he said. “I saved money for three years and bought a one-way ticket to Bombay (India). Right before I left, I went back home to visit my parents and made a batch of soap with my mom as a bonding project. I took off for Asia with a couple bars in my backpack that we had made.”

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That was 1999. Two years later, Onysko was out of money in Cambodia and decided to head to Boulder to become an entrepreneur, taking a cue from that bonding project with his mother.

“I wanted to start a company to fund a nonprofit that helps corporations to become more sustainable and decided to start a soap company,” he said.

In 2001, Onysko moved to Boulder and started Pangea in his garage. “I started selling soap on the Pearl Street Mall and farmers’ market, even in the parking lot of Red Rocks on the weekends,” he said. “I slowly built it up … and then started figuring out how to make other products like lotions and shower gels.”

Onysko said Pangea is “the only completely clean skin- and body-care brand, free of petroleum and hexanes and formaldehyde donors.” Instead, the company uses ingredients like green tea and white sage.

There’s clearly a demand. Since 2004, Pangea has grown 429 percent – from $225,000 to $1,126,933. It is ranked the No. 4 fastest-growing private company with revenues less than $2 million for the Boulder County Business Report’s Mercury 100 list.

“We’re probably going to come close to tripling again this year. Sales have been growing, and we can barely keep up with them,” Onysko said.

Onysko said the growth was the result of “a lot of work” and an expansion into skin care in 2005. Besides liquid and bar soap, Pangea now makes lotions, shower gels, cleansers, toners, moisturizers, lip balms, facial scrubs, masks and massage oils. “We launched the skin care line a year and a half ago, and it’s been growing rapidly,” Onysko said.

Boulder-based Wild Oats Markets carries Pangea’s full line at most of its stores, said Diana Lucas, the company’s national body care buyer.

“The customers love (Pangea’s products), not just for their scents but for their therapeutic qualities,” she said.

Pangea also has environmentally-friendly packaging. Some containers are “plantable” with embedded seeds.

Onysko cited international sales – about 20 percent of Pangea’s business – as another key to growth, which the company fostered with help from a Western United States Agricultural Trade Association, or WUSATA, grant.

“Because all of our products are made from more than 50 percent U.S. agricultural products, they pay for half of our export marketing costs,” he said. “I started doing trade shows overseas, and we’re now sold in 18 different countries.”

Now occupying its sixth factory in six years, Pangea’s current base of operations in Gunbarrel is entirely wind powered and features an employee-run garden that feeds the entire staff for half the year, Onysko said.

“Last year we actually had too much food,” he said.

Onysko is proud that Pangea is one of a few companies in Boulder County to always pay “a true living wage” to all employees. “It’s something I’ve always believed in,” he said. “At Pangea, the lowest-paid employee makes $12.50 an hour plus full health and medical. I’d like more companies in Boulder to start paying a living wage.”

Pangea also gives employees public transportation passes and rewards employees who bicycle to work in the summer. “Last summer, 50 percent of our staff biked to work every day,” Onysko said.

Onysko’s nonprofit Pangea Institute just got its 501 c (3) status in early 2007. “I just volunteer and help companies get more sustainable,” he said. “Right now the company is the priority so it can generate the funds we need to establish the nonprofit. Eventually the plan is much larger.”

Onysko described a long-term vision of the Institute as an innovative incubator at the center of an “eco-city” in Boulder County with as many as 10,000 inhabitants and “everything from light industrial to a living complex with low-income to million-dollar condos, all in one community.

“My plan is to first run for mayor and change a couple laws around,” he said. “That’s the first step.”

For an agenda that ambitious, it’s probably best to take it one step at a time.

About Pangea

Pangea Organics

6880 Winchester Circle, South Bay

Boulder, CO 80301

303-413-8493

www.pangeaorganics.com

Joshua S. Onysko, founder and

chief executive

Employees: 21

Primary service: Organic body-care products

Founded: 2001

BOULDER – Joshua Onysko founded Boulder-based Pangea Organics in 2001. Now 29, Onysko called the booming company’s genesis “a long story,” and for a CEO his age, the description is surprisingly apt.

After dropping out of high school when he was 16, Onysko traveled the United States. He then moved to Nicaragua and started working with nonprofits in developing countries.

“I became obsessed with traveling the world for a different education,” he said. “I saved money for three years and bought a one-way ticket to Bombay (India). Right before I left, I went back home to visit my parents and made a…

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