Vanessa Creaven, who co-founded Spotlight Whitening with her sister, says women have unique abilities which makes for great entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurial success isn’t about “any special talents or intellect but about hard work and determination”, says Vanessa Creaven, a dentist, who along with her sister Lisa, founded Spotlight Whitening, a revolutionary range for safe and effective teeth whitening at home. Spotlight has not only become a household name in Ireland but now it is also available in eight countries, across 7,000 retailers.

You and your sister, Lisa, run two successful businesses – your dental clinic and Spotlight Whitening. How do you juggle between the two?

Juggle is a very good word to describe it, it is a bit of a juggle. Myself and Lisa are dentists so we run a practice called Quay Dental. That’s where we work for let’s say a part of the week and before Spotlight was formed we were both full-time on the practice. Looking at it, the practice gives us a lot of ideas for when we form our products for the Spotlight.

For example, what we saw was that a lot of our patients didn’t have a real alternative to teeth whitening other than the whitening that we provided in the practice, which is a little bit of an investment as it costs around 300 euros. So we decided to come up with a product that could be used over the counter, that it would be available in a pharmacy, through a retailer, that would give a good result, wouldn’t cause sensitivity and would be a little more affordable. And that’s how we came up with Spotlight Whitening.

I think we are quite diligent with our time, we spend time in the afternoon touching base with the Spotlight team and how they are getting on. I also think we are very focused on how we work. I suppose it’s not a 9am-5pm job for us, we can work around it by being focused on our time and diligent, even when we meet during the weekends or on Sundays we have a little briefing session.

“I always say define success, you know success is so varied for so many people.”

What challenges did you face when you decided to bring your idea to the market?

I suppose for us because Spotlight is the only teeth-whitening product that is available over the counter and contains hydrogen peroxide, which is the only effective ingredient that can whiten teeth, regulation was a huge challenge. After 2011, the EU regulation became stricter on the quality and the level of the hydrogen peroxide in products. So, regulation was one of the challenges that we faced. Another challenge is that my background as well as Lisa’s is medical, we do not have any business background in terms of establishing a business, bringing a product to the market, marketing the product or PR. These are all different challenges that we faced as we brought our product to the market.

Being a successful entrepreneur, what does it take to succeed, besides a good idea of course?

I always say define success, you know success is so varied for so many people, and it may sound a bit of a cliche but, we are only at the beginning of a big, big journey with Spotlight, so I would say the biggest attribute is that we are hard-working people. I always say that you don’t have to be the smartest, but you have to work very hard.

I think courage is very important to any business, continuing on, taking the good days with the bad, learn from any challenges that comes up, try to find a reason and a way to go through it. When you are competing in the international market and competing with bigger brands, I think hard work and believing that you have the knowledge and above all, courage, is the most important thing that you can have. It’s not about any special talents or intellect but about hard work and determination.

“I always say that you don’t have to be the smartest, but you have to work very hard.”

What do you think should be done in order to encourage more women to start a business?

Nowadays there is a huge amount of support for women who want to start a business. When we launched Spotlight we took part in a female-led entrepreneurial community, called Going for Business and run by Paula Fitzsimons. I found that really helpful and supportive. Nowadays, even though you’re always going to have some limitations, for example, Lisa had a baby a few weeks ago, there is more support at the government level as well as community-wide. It is more accepted now that women have jobs, they have careers, they have companies, and they’re not so much of a minority anymore.

I think women have a unique ability – and I see it in my sister, I don’t have any children but my sister Lisa has three under the age of three. I do not know any man that could work quite like her. We have unique abilities by nature, we are able to see other opportunities, we are multitaskers, so they are advantages to being a woman when running your own company. At Spotlight we are a great team of women, we have only female employees. There’s definitely a change in place and it is growing.

Interview by Irene Psychari.

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