Summer job led to starting a business

2023-03-01

Portrait of Viktoria Engqvist in a lab at the Ångström Laboratory.
Viktoria Engqvist’s summer job in Uppsala University’s Ångström Laboratory paved the way for
Lea Cares. The company is set to launch its first product in spring 2023.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt.

Passionate about biology and chemistry, she can't resist a challenge or learning something new. Viktoria Engqvist is a pharmacy student at Uppsala University who runs her own business selling products for healthier nails, skin and hair.

Unlike most of her colleagues on the Master of Science Programme in Pharmacy, Viktoria Engqvist felt at home in the lab from day one. By that point, she had already spent three summers in Uppsala University’s Ångström Laboratory assisting in various projects and also having the chance to pursue small projects of her own. They all had to do with various kinds of cosmetics. It was her father, Håkan Engqvist who helped her to get this summer job. A professor of Applied Materials Science, working at the Ångström Laboratory himself, he is a major source of inspiration for his daughter.

“The main thing was finding out what working in a lab is like in purely practical terms,” Viktoria Engqvist explains. “Getting a little insight into what people do in a research lab, how they work and the kinds of discussions that arise.” 

An idea was born

By her third summer in the lab, Engqvist had started researching new ways of strengthening hair, skin and nails. Calcium and silicon, two common elements, became the focus of her work.

“Calcium and silicon are important elements that are found in the body and they strengthen skin, hair and nails. What if we could deliver these substances locally, straight to where we need them? That was what we wanted to test. We decided to start with nails and see if we could deliver these elements by means of nail varnish,” she explains.

No sooner said than done. After many different types of tests and measurements, it was clear the idea worked. The elements really could be delivered locally to the nail via nail varnish. And that immediately gave rise to a new question.

“What do we do now? Once you’ve done all the testing and proved it works, what happens next? Did we want to do anything with it? Should we develop a product? And at that point I thought well, if you’ve taken an idea and shown it works... Yes, I want to take it further,” says Engqvist.

From nail varnish to nail oil

But how exactly do you develop a new, original nail varnish? It proved to be quite difficult. After applying to various manufacturers in Sweden, Engqvist eventually got in touch with a company in Jönköping that was interested in working together. However, the company quickly realised that the product shouldn't be a nail varnish but a nail oil. So Engqvist simply had to start doing all the tests again. Did it still work if the elements were delivered to the nail via an oil instead of a varnish? Yes it did.

“Now we have a nail oil whose contents are documented to strengthen the nail from within, and that feels great. It isn’t how I thought it would be at the start, but you have to spot new opportunities all the time and not get stuck in the tram tracks you started out in,” she says.

Portrait of Viktoria Engqvist in front of the Uppsala University Ångström Laboratory.
Engqvist thinks studying alongside working in the company works well and the business gives her extra motivation for her studies. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt.

Engqvist has had a central role in producing the product but bringing it to market needed additional input. With her father Håkan Engqvist and entrepreneur Jenny Lundell, she started the company Lea Cares.

Product about to launch

“It’s good to have a team on board. The three of us each have different skills. Jenny and my father have both been involved in launching several companies. Marketing, sales and building a business were all unfamiliar territory to me but I’m learning all the time and just want to learn more.”

The company’s first product will be launched in the spring and it’s full speed ahead on the preparations. At the same time, there are thoughts of new products and this is where Engqvist’s heart lies and where she sees major opportunities.

“We have a strong, patented technology for releasing calcium and silicon, in the form of calcium silicate, locally to a surface. First and foremost we can look ahead to more products that can help create healthier nails, skin and hair, but future applications in industry and medical technology are also totally feasible.”

Entrepreneurship and studying make the perfect partnership

Engqvist works on Lea Cares in parallel with studying on the Master of Science Programme in Pharmacy and hasn’t found this a problem. In fact she’s found it a plus.

“I’ve always found links between what I’m doing in the business and my course. It’s boosted my motivation. Being able to apply my knowledge in practice just makes the courses even more interesting.”

When asked if entrepreneurship has always been part of her career plan, she laughs.

“Until not that long ago, I didn't know there was a word for what I’m doing. But once I’d realised what it involves, then yes, I want to be an entrepreneur. It's a title I’ll take with me into the future.”

Text: Sara Gredemark


In person: Viktoria Engqvist

Age: 23

Background: Science programme at Celsiusskolan in Uppsala.

Portrait of Viktoria Engqvist standing outside in front of a greige colored wall.
Viktoria Engqvist. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt.

Doing now: In the fourth year of the Master of Science Programme in Pharmacy at Uppsala University and running the company Lea Cares, where she is in charge of product development. 

Favourite podcast: I listen to at least one podcast a day, including Alex and Sigge, and Ursäkta with Johanna Nordström and Edvin Törnblom

Free time: Running and being a football trainer, including for the girls’ club Tjejbollen in Uppsala.

Do you have any advice for people who have an idea they want to make happen but don't quite know how?: I want to inspire others to invest in their ideas, especially young girls. You can do it! Just have the courage to take it one step further and talk to someone about your idea. In my experience, people are often happy to help. 

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Last modified: 2023-12-01