FOND DU LAC NORTH (NBC 26) — What started as a class project for Aidan Fowler and Lillian Gockerman is now a huge business success that has exceeded all expectations. Commah, a line of air fresheners, car diffusers and essential oils is now sold online and at several local salons and businesses and will soon be on the shelves of Festival Foods.
The project was for a business class called IncubatorEDU, which pushed students to create a product to serve as a solution to a common problem.
“I suffer from allergies and I get a really bad reaction from regular air fresheners,” Goeckerman said. “So we came up with the Commah idea and it’s an all natural air freshener and it doesn’t give me any reaction.”
The line of air fresheners, car diffusers and essential oils is made with all plant-based ingredients.
Fowler and Gockerman demonstrate their product
The young entrepreneurs first worked their way through local businesses and salons and eventually formed a partnership with Festival Foods by contacting the natural foods manager.
During the class, students first developed the product, then pitched it to organizations that support IncubatorEDU, and eventually went on to pitch their idea at a UW-Oshkosh event and a nationwide competition. That hard work paid off – in the form of thousands of dollars in support of their business.
But now Commah is independently profitable for Fowler and Goeckerman, who have plans to expand further with the support of their community.
“Our whole community is super strong,” Fowler said. “We’re in athletics, so people see us at sporting events and they’re like, ‘oh, what’s going on?’ What’s new? Are there any new flavors?’
But the road to this success was not always easy.
“Being 17 years old, starting when we were 15, nobody really takes you 100 percent seriously,” Goeckerman said.
And students still have to deal with the realities of high school.
“We were doing a test. And I finished the test and watched [our pitch] and out of nowhere it’s just like, ‘Lily, what’s that smell?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, no.'” Fowler said, referring to a line from their business presentation.
Fowler and Goeckerman say their friends often refer to the beginning of their business pitch
The name “Commah” refers to the relaxing properties of the products.
“At two in the morning, my sister came up with the name comm-ah, because a traditional comma is a pause in a sentence,” Fowler said. “So when you inhale something you like, it’s like, ‘Aah,’ taking a moment to breathe.”
The students got help developing the scents from Fowler’s grandmother, who owned a business where she made candles, soap and scrubs. Fowler said she is part of a national handmade soap and cosmetics group that the young entrepreneurs are now members of.
Fowler said they plan to bring the service back to Grandma once they start expanding further.
“I promised my grandmother that she would be our first employee,” Fowler said.
In addition to Grandma, Fowler and Goeckerman said they hope to hire high school students to work for them.
“High schoolers are really looking for experience,” Fowler said. “So we can give them an experience where they give us more options. Obviously, you see, they’re going to be paid.”
Teacher and mentor Kurt Wismer said Commah’s success serves as an inspiration to other students.
“It just makes me excited to be able to see them do these things and see them come to fruition,” Wismer said. “You know, they’ve got the hustle and they’ve got the guts and they’ve got the drive to pull it together. And they are just great people on top of that. So it’s like a pride dad moment.”
As for next steps for Team Commah, Fowler and Goeckerman said they plan to continue their business after they graduate. They said they hope to expand to all Festival Foods locations in the Midwest by March and eventually sell their products at Kroger.
“The fact that we’re younger, we’re going to show that younger entrepreneurs can do this,” Goeckerman said.