The Marvelous Mirela MitanRead this article on mobile
The Romanian-born biochemist and entrepreneur aims to declutter the cosmetics counter and disrupt the industry with her proprietary formulasBY MARILYN HARRIS
Mirela Mitan, MBA '14, was confident when she applied to NYU Stern’s Executive MBA program that she would learn the entrepreneurial skills she needed to market a novel skin-care product she had developed in her laboratory. “I knew from day one what I wanted, I just didn’t have a clear vision of how to get there,” she said. Three years after Mitan graduated, one of the most exclusive retail stores in the world featured her MMXV Infinitude™ facial cream at its cosmetics counter on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Mitan’s story begins in Romania, where she was born in 1970 and lived until emigrating to the US at age 30. As was the case with most Romanians in that era, under the notorious dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, necessities like food, clothing, and electricity were hard to come by but education was virtually a national imperative, Mitan said, and by studying during the wee hours of the night, when industrial electricity usage dropped, she graduated from the University of Bucharest with a doctorate in biochemistry. “It was a tough, crazy time,” she recalled.
At the time, Mitan dreamed of working in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry in Romania, and she earned an additional degree in pharmacy. Her thesis had focused on the interactions of enzymes with natural extracts, and while doing research under a government research grant, she was hired by a supplier to produce active botanical-extract ingredients for Estée Lauder cosmetics in the US. She arrived in the US in 2000 and became the first employee of a small spinoff company established in New Jersey called Biocomponent Research.
Working seven days a week, with her typical intensity, Mitan became frustrated with what she saw in the cosmetics marketplace. “There was a lot of redundancy that was very confusing for the consumer,” she said. “Eye cream, night cream, day cream, all had antioxidants.” She saw no reason one product couldn’t be used on different areas of the face—so she set about creating a universal facial cream based on a proprietary formula. In 2005, she founded a company, M&G Cosmetics, to consult for other companies as she developed her own product. Her formula contains natural active ingredients like Falernum grape and olive extracts, fermented white truffles, and hyaluronic acids, a combination aimed at hydrating, smoothing, brightening, and generally improving skin around the face and neck.
One Size Fits All
Face cream in hand, Mitan realized she lacked the know-how to build a business around it. “I was a scientist, but I needed to understand every part of the business, especially the luxury market.” Stern’s Executive MBA program appealed to her because it sought out similarly experienced candidates and created a collaborative, “intensive, informative, and joyful” environment. Stern, she said, was “the best investment in myself.” The skills and confidence she gained through working projects with classmates led her to believe, she said, “that nothing can stop me from becoming successful. Without Stern, I wouldn’t have my own brand.”
After earning her degree, Mitan devoted almost every waking moment of the next three years to starting a business. “Devising the formula was easy,” she said. “The hardest part is all the rest.” As the founder and sole employee of MMXV Infinitude™, she outsourced elements such as fragrance, production, packaging and design, and sales. The packaging was designed in London, while the product is manufactured north of Naples, Italy. “It’s an American brand with a European heritage,” Mitan said. “As CEO, my job is to have everyone moving in the same direction.”
The debut product was launched in October 2017 at Bergdorf Goodman in New York and has since been picked up by Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue online, and Cosbar—an especially fast ramp-up for a first product from an unknown company. “It is a high privilege to be carried by these stores,” Mitan said. “Having one universal cream breaks the rules for the cosmetics industry, and I think that’s why we were able to get distribution so fast. Plus, as the inventor and CEO, I can answer every question the buyers have. In one sense, they were buying me, my personality. I’m the brand.”
But, Mitan acknowledged, it takes a lot to stand out in the clutter of the cosmetics counter, so she has set an ambitious goal of extending her line every six months. Next up, slated for Spring 2019, is a cleanser/toner and after that a sunblock and mask.