We love it when we see the next generation gearing up to give back, and Zeal Cares founder, Julia Sora, is way ahead of the curve. Our youngest social entrepreneur started her give back business at age 10!
Deeply moved by friends and family who battled cancer and experienced severe side effects from treatment, Julia began formulating her own lip care products with a mission to gift them to children in cancer treatment in the Houston, Texas area. Those early products have blossomed into a full blown lip balm business benefiting children’s hospitals across the country. Zeal Cares has attracted partnerships and custom orders from the likes of Victoria’s Secret and Kendra Scott, and Julia is dreaming even bigger. We had a chance to catch up with the busy (now 16-year-old) entrepreneur to learn about what drives and inspires her to change the world.
What was your inspiration for Zeal Cares? Is there a story behind the name?
When I was in 4th grade, I got to participate in a Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN) Conference in New York. I was a delegate of the Commonwealth of Australia and my topic was “Empowerment of Women through Education.” I was shocked to find out that close to half a billion women around the world were illiterate. I walked away from that experience determined to help make a difference. Shortly after MMUN, my parents told me about a close family friend who was battling Stage III breast cancer. While undergoing chemotherapy, she faced many side effects like nausea, weight loss and dry skin. Seeing her struggles inspired me to try and make a direct impact on children going through similar experiences with dry skin. I eventually came up with the idea of creating and gifting body products to cancer patients. It was really important that I formulated a safe, effective and fun product that pediatric cancer patients could use. Shortly after, I founded my business Zeal Cares. The word Zeal literally means “ great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective” and I thought that suited the kind of energy I was building my company with!
What Zeal Cares achievement or contribution so far are you most proud of?
I am most proud of how many hospitals and organizations I am working with around the country to provide my products to their patients. I am now working with over 30, and a few of them include MD Anderson, Dana Farber, and Teen Cancer America. I am excited that I have partners in 18 states, which allows me to reach thousands of patients.
Who developed your lip balm formula?
I developed my lip balm formula myself! I created and tested unique formulas in my kitchen at home, using all-natural, and antioxidant rich ingredients like Shea Butter, Argan Oil, and Jojoba oil until I found the perfect combination.
How did you start selling? Who were your first supporters?
When I first started Zeal Cares, I sold my lip balms to people at my school (including my teachers!) as well as family friends and neighbors. I also participated in local markets and pop-ups around Houston. After more people were introduced to my story, word spread and I put together a website, where I began to get orders from all around the country! Since day one, everyone from my close friends to complete strangers have gone out of their way to support me, but it was my classmates who first helped me spread the word about Zeal Cares. I have been fortunate enough to have mentors like Tom Nolan (president of Kendra Scott), Margo LaZaro (President & Chair of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development at the United Nations) and more.
You are an active participant in the delivery of the lip balms you gift to children’s cancer treatment centers around your home state and beyond. What stories and memories from these experiences stand out for you?
I currently partner with more than 30 hospitals and organizations across the country in 18 states, and there are many memories that have touched my heart. At my very first visit to MD Anderson here in Houston, a mother came up to me and told me how excited she was that I was providing lip balms, because her child had been complaining about how dry his lips were that morning. Recently, I received a message from a mother thanking me for the lip balms she had received at one of my hospital visits. The raspberry scented lip balm was especially meaningful and exciting to her younger son because he had not been able to eat raspberries since his treatment started. Raspberries are his favorite fruit, however the common mold hidden in them was especially dangerous to his condition, so a raspberry scented lip balm was something he loved using. And lastly, I have received multiple emails from patients at my various hospital partners thanking me for my lip balms, and describing how helpful they have been during their treatment. Although a simple email may seem small, the patients are always incredibly grateful, and I am shocked to read about how much my small lip balms have made a difference to them during treatment.
What’s the biggest challenge Zeal Cares faces?
We face many different challenges every week, however, the overall biggest challenge is spreading the word and getting people to understand what our goals are. When you first glance at our lip balms, many people do not catch the wording stating that for every lip balm you purchase, another is gifted to a child or young adult with cancer. I am constantly working to improve my language and presentation not only on the lip balms, but on the signs that accompany my lip balms at the hospitals and in retailers.
How has the experience of starting a social enterprise company changed you?
This experience has changed me by teaching me that little things make a difference. I have learned that something as small as a single lip balm can make a big difference to cancer patients during their treatment. The genuine optimism and resilience of the patients I have encountered is what inspires me every day to grow Zeal Cares and make a difference much larger than myself.
“The word Zeal literally means ‘great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective’ and I thought that suited the kind of energy I was building my company with!”
What would you say to a brand considering incorporating a give back into its model or to an individual exploring a new social enterprise concept?
I would recommend that they form a simple but meaningful mission statement so that they never lose sight of what they are trying to achieve. Often, companies can get sidetracked from their original goals, so I think that having a main goal/mission statement is really helpful when they are trying to grow and give back to the community.
You stay busy when you’re not working on your company. Aside from being a full-time student, what does life outside of Zeal Cares look like?
Aside from school and my company, I play Field Hockey and Soccer, and I take art classes. I love to participate in various clubs at my school, as well as bake sweets at home. During the sport seasons, practices are about 1.5-2 hours after school each day. I also love spending time with my family, I have 2 younger brothers, Jae and Alex. We play card games like Uno and board games like Monopoly!
What’s next for Zeal Cares?
I am currently working towards 3 goals:
- Providing safe, high-quality body products for pediatric and young adult (AYA) oncology patients, because their skin gets extremely dehydrated during treatment. I created an all-natural, effective lip balm and for every one purchased, I gift another to a child or young adult with cancer.
- Creating an ambassador program where children in the cancer community can work with local hospitals and organizations to ensure that pediatric and AYA oncology patients have access to effective products. I want to give children under 16 opportunities like these because there are minimal volunteer opportunities where they can see the direct impact they are making.
- Being a significant source of funding for pediatric cancer research. Pediatric cancer research is incredibly underfunded in the United States, and cancer is the number one cause of death by disease in children. Only 4% of the billions of dollars spent on cancer research each year are specifically for treating childhood cancer. Since 1980, less than 10 drugs have been created for pediatric oncology, compared to the hundreds made solely for adults. I have created a special lip balm flavor (Kay’s Wild Cherry) where 100% of the proceeds fund pediatric cancer research.