Born in a Kitchen, St. Louis’ Florae Goes Beyond Textured Hair Products

Dr. Natalie King, founder of Florae Beauty

Born in a Kitchen, St. Louis’ Florae Goes Beyond Textured Hair Products

One of the first things you notice about Dr. Natalie King is her long, voluminous, curly brown hair.

“It’s something that’s always been at the background of everything that I do,” Natalie says. “Coming into the corporate world – into spaces where you have to lead with a ‘good’ image – and being a woman of color, that’s even more highlighted. There aren’t a lot of spaces that we can walk into where if your hair is perceived as unkept, everyone is OK with it. Especially during a time when many employers and schools still have policies that criminalize and discriminate against natural hair and natural hairstyles.”

At 26, Natalie earned her Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Illinois-Chicago; she was the youngest ever and the first Afro-Latina to receive the degree. She began working in this highly competitive field, studying the role of serotonin in depression and autism. But at night, she was doing a different kind of research.

“I had my own struggles with my curly hair for a very long time – not really understanding how to take care of it or knowing products that worked well due to my multi-ethnic textures,” Natalie says. “I would do my lab work from 9 to 5, and then literally from about 5 p.m. to 2 in the morning, I would just be researching and doing my own product development in my kitchen, whipping things up. I’ve learned so much that I’ve come to this place where I know what works and what doesn’t. Now I want to share that knowledge with others.”

Asking for help

Natalie launched Florae, a “technology-based, personalizable hair wellness brand,” in 2022 and debuted products focused on textured hair. She kicked off the formal process after moving from Chicago to St. Louis in 2019, getting to know the Gateway City through its startup community.

The first group she reached out to was the Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneur Network (ITEN) at Lindenwood University, meeting with Director of Entrepreneur Development Melissa Grizzle. With the help of ITEN, Natalie was introduced to the team from Arch Grants, which provides $50,000 equity-free grants to entrepreneurs and startups, along with training and resources through an annual global pitch competition.

“[Arch Grants] was phenomenal,” says Natalie, who was part of the 2020 cohort. “Through that, I’ve been introduced to a number of other great mentors. Arch Grants in general is a really great resource for founders who may even be in the earlier phases of building their companies. This is oftentimes the hardest phase to raise capital because you may only have a well thought out idea or perhaps a minimal viable product. Arch Grants is perfect [for providing opportunity for these early-stage ideas to be funded and flourish, along with other companies that already have a steady track record of success as well.”

Going beyond great products

Natalie sees Florae as standing proudly on the shoulders of successful historical giants. The Black haircare industry was effectively founded and built in St. Louis, an industry that now boasts a multi-billion-dollar yearly market. Madam C.J. Walker, who became the first Black female self-made millionaire by creating cosmetics and hair products specifically for Black women, got her start in St. Louis working for Annie Malone, another Black woman who created her own successful makeup and hair care line and opened a cosmetology school in 1918 that at one point employed 200 St. Louisans.

“Both of those individuals were so instrumental in creating what we now know as the Black hair care industry,” Natalie says. “They were the first African American millionaires in the space and really paved the way for entrepreneurs like me. I feel so honored to be able to have that history as our foundation and it makes me want to do my best to continue that amazing legacy.

“Continuing the journey of those successful, Black, female founders is important to me, and I have a lot to give back to the St. Louis community because it’s already given so much to me.”

In addition to creating premium, personalized hair wellness products for women with textured hair, Natalie also wants Florae to begin to highlight what she terms the “hair wellness continuum.”

“Being a health care provider, it’s a clear gap that I see and one I wish I had when I was going through my haircare journey,” she says. “When it comes to more significant hair care or scalp challenges, there’s not a lot of awareness and access to information and providers who are best positioned to deal with these issues. Providers like Trichologists and Dermatologists who can truly assess what may be needed beyond topical aides and styling products. In addition, I really want to start educating women on what it means to have healthy hair. Hair wellness is not just about finding great products that work for you. It also includes knowledge on how things like aging, haircare practices, and stress can ultimately play a role in the health of your hair.”

Taking the leap

Natalie’s biggest piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs is to just go for it. Get started. Even though she was successful in the medical science field, she was still nervous to strike out in a new area.

“There’s a lot of fear that can come along with starting something new and wanting to do well, wanting to do right by people, and wanting to produce great products and services,” Natalie says. “Just get started. Sit down and take stock of all the resources that you have available to you and just start somewhere. It’s the fear that usually keeps people from making a step at all.”

Natalie says the other thing she’s learned as an entrepreneur is that you’re going to be asking questions – a lot of questions. That’s OK: It’s how you learn.

“I think many of us who start businesses get into this mindset, like maybe I should know this, or I don’t want to look stupid, especially if you’ve been successful in another area,” she says. “Entrepreneurship is not like that. It’s constant question-asking, trial and error, and figuring things out – like literally 15,000 decisions a day. You cannot be afraid to reach out to people, ask questions and maybe ask the same question again if you didn’t get it the first time.”

Natalie ultimately credits the St. Louis startup community for helping her take the business from pipe dream to reality. Natalie stresses that though she’s the founder and CEO, as with any successful company, there’s a team of people who has given that entrepreneur guidance along the way.

“There’s been a lot of people that have been incredibly generous with their time, energy, money, you name it,” she says. “I’m definitely the over-analyzer – that comes from my first career – so that was the first thing I needed to do when I wanted to learn how to build a successful business: Reach out to local leaders, ask great questions, and learn how they did it!”

> > > If you’re looking to write your own business success story, it’s time you got connected with the right experts and resources for you in Missouri. Just call MOSourceLink at 866-870-6500 or tell us what you need here, and we’ll craft your very own plan of next steps that outlines whom to contact and what to do to reach your business goals.

Share this post