Schulze Innovation Scholar Isabel Bercaw Balances College And Business

Isabel Bercaw started making bath bombs with her younger sister when the two were just tweens. She never imagined their hobby would turn into a multimillion-dollar business, but that’s exactly what happened.

After debuting their bath bombs at a popular local art fair in 2013, the Bercaws (Isabel was 12 at the time and Caroline was 11) returned to the fair a year later; a local salon owner approached them about selling the bath bombs in his Twin Cities salons. The products were a hit thanks to their playful names, pleasant scents and a fun surprise hidden inside each bomb.

First-year student Isabel Bercaw, left, and her sister Caroline pose for a portrait in the office of their business, Da Bomb Bath Fizzers. (Liam Doyle/University of St. Thomas)

Soon a variety of Twin Cities outlets put in orders for bath bombs and in 2015 Da Bomb Bath Fizzers became an official company. Eventually, the Bercaw’s bath bombs made a splash regionally and then nationally when Target came calling a year later. Soon after that, the family opened a manufacturing facility in a Twin Cities suburb to keep up with demand.

Listen to Isabel and Caroline's interview with the By All Means podcast here. 

The sister-prenuers have spent their teens juggling school and their business. Although they’ve found success with their bath products, school is still top of mind. Isabel recently started her college career as a first-year student at St. Thomas and recipient of the highly competitive Schulze Innovation Scholarship, an accomplishment of which she’s extremely proud.

“I know from experience that when somebody invests their time, when your mom gives you $150 and invests in your idea, big things can happen,” Bercaw said. “I really appreciate that somebody saw that in me and decided to believe in me. Especially being a young person in business, I think a lot of times you can be looked down upon or some people will have thoughts or images of what a young person should look like in business. It's really special when somebody gives you an opportunity and puts those things aside and says, ‘I'm going to believe in you for the person you are.’”

After winning an EY regional award last summer, the sisters, along with their parents, Kimberly and Ben, are up for the national EY Entrepreneur of the Year US award. Asked about being featured on TV talk shows, online videos and in print (the sisters were featured on the cover of Entrepreneurship magazine in September), Bercaw is thoughtful when reflecting on her business journey. She said she couldn’t have done any of it without her close-knit family.

“My parents are really awesome,” Bercaw said. “They don’t necessarily tell me all the answers, but they tell me how to find the answers. And that has been really important.”

We sat down with Bercaw at O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library a few weeks after the start of the new school year. Here are some additional highlights from our conversation.

Even though she runs a successful business, college is top of mind

"It's dangerous to get an ego. If you see yourself and you say, ‘I'm on the cover of a magazine; I don't need to learn any more,’ you’re putting yourself in a dangerous position. There's so much to learn at college and, in particular, at St. Thomas because, not only am I going to be learning some terms in business I hadn't heard before or something that maybe doesn't apply to bath bombs, [but also] it may apply to something else that I'd like to know about. I'm going to be learning important life skills, as well. Then there’s the experience of going to college and there's always more to learn from my experiences."

St. Thomas (and the Opus College of Business’ Schulze School of Entrepreneurship) caught her eye

"Something that drew me to St. Thomas was the small class sizes. When I was in high school, the only reason I was able to balance my business and classes was because of the personal attention I was given at my school. When I came to St Thomas, I felt like a lot of people were so understanding of the business and empathetic with the unique things that everybody was doing. I really appreciated that."

First-year student Isabel Bercaw poses for a portrait on Monahan Plaza. (Liam Doyle/University of St. Thomas)

She’s proud to be a Schulze Innovation Scholar

"When I was told I received the scholarship, some tears may have been shed. I thought it was awesome somebody believed in me, was willing to fund my education and wanted me to be part of this journey.

I was really intrigued with the idea that a certain amount of people [the scholars] would get paid close attention to and maybe get some extra opportunities. I thought that was cool and something I wanted to be a part of. I wasn't sure if I'd be a good candidate for it at first, because I was concerned the program was going to take away time I'm already spending building my own business. But I would say it's been the complete opposite. So far, it's really enriched my experience and everything I've been learning at St. Thomas I can apply to my business. They're supportive of your personal goals while still allowing you to follow this path they've created for your curriculum, which I think is awesome."

The Bercaw family embraced the sisters’ bath bomb dream early on

"We wouldn't be where we are today without the help of our parents, our employees and our business partners and even our grandparents. One Thanksgiving we were going to go to our grandparents’ house, but we ended up getting a huge order because holiday season is crazy in the world of business. My grandparents ended up coming to our house and instead of eating Thanksgiving dinner, we all sat in our loft and packaged bath bombs until 8 p.m. We finally made some noodles later for dinner. We're thankful for all the help we've received and all the support."

She’s got a second book coming out and it isn’t about bath bombs

"My first book "Fizz Boom Bath!" is out and available on Amazon. The manuscript for my second book is complete, but I’m not sure of the exact launch date. It's a DIY beauty book about makeup and skincare. I learned a ton with this new book, and I feel like there could be a market in the future for something that I'd like to do in that realm of ideas.

Her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Don’t give up

"If you're not successful right off the bat, don't get discouraged but be prepared to work really hard. When I first started the business, I thought it was going to be a hobby. I'm going to go network, do some fun stuff like that. But I would suggest you be involved in every step, because then you're really going to know your business. You're going to know your brand like it's your own baby. It's going to help you when you're making decisions further along down the line."