ND Founder Profile #146: This Self-Proclaimed Busy Bee and Beauty Queen Is Launching a Magnetic Startup

Author: Melanie Lux

Audrey Nov 29 Fb Web


Company Founded: Netic Nails Year Graduated: 2023
Title: Founder Degree: MS, Management
Location: Notre Dame, IN Residence Hall: NA


Growing up in Niles, Michigan, just 20 miles from South Bend, Indiana, Audrey Bakerson was known as a busy bee. She was, quite literally, into everything.

She did dance, soccer, gymnastics, volunteered, started college at age 13. She also found time to enter seven beauty pageants. Bakerson credits supportive parents who didn’t mind driving her everywhere. “I had a lot of big dreams. No dream was too big for me,” she says.

Her dad supported her passion for soccer, coaching her team in grade school. Bakerson played forward and was always looking for an opportunity to get the ball in the goal. During high school, she shared her love of soccer by coaching children with disabilities. Soccer continues to be her favorite recreational sport.

Bakerson also pursued gymnastics with the intensity of a future Olympic gold medalist. Injuries are not unusual in gymnastics and Bakerson was not immune. When she was 12, she took a particularly bad tumble and toughed her way through the pain for months. When her grit would carry her no further through terrible back pain, Bakerson’s parents took her in for an x-ray. What the doctors found surprised everyone.

Bakerson had spondylolisthesis, a spinal defect that causes spine instability where the vertebrae move forward. In her case, she was actually missing a vertebra, and her spine and tailbone were connected. Bakerson winces at the memory of the initial diagnosis. “Gymnastics was the absolute worst sport for me to do as people with spondylolisthesis should not do back bends and back flips as it can cause bones in the final spinal column to shift. I had to stop gymnastics and cut back on dance and soccer.”

Months of wearing a back brace and sitting on a pillow finally relieved her pain—and led to two new life-changing pursuits: school and beauty pageants.

At age 13, when her mother suggested she start taking college classes at Southwestern Michigan College, Bakerson was all in. After applying and gaining approval to attend, she started taking half of her coursework at the college. In 2019, she graduated with honors with an associate’s degree in Science, Engineering and Math. She was 17.

Thinking she wanted to be a medical doctor, Bakerson decided to complete her four-year degree at Michigan State University. Because she’d already taken many of the prerequisites, she minored in Entrepreneurship and Innovation while majoring in Human Biology. Among her extracurriculars were the Microbiology and Genetics Club and Michigan State Entrepreneurship Association. It was during her two years at Michigan State that she came to the realization that despite her love of science, she didn’t want to be a doctor.

“I considered laboratory sciences, but I’m way too social to work in a lab,” she says.

And then there was the matter of her other passion, beauty pageants. After her health scare, Bakerson needed something new and less physical to fill her time. Many of her friends competed in beauty pageants, so she thought she’d give it a go. Not knowing what to expect, she won the very first pageant she entered, Miss Apple Festival, in 2018 when she was 16.

“What I loved most was spending the year volunteering across the community. Little kids would come up to me, see the crown and ask where my castle was, and where my prince was. It was fun,” Bakerson says.

She went on to enter six more pageants, winning the biggest of her career in November 2022, the title of Miss Michigan Collegiate America. This was Bakerson’s first state crown and propelled her into the national pageant competition in Little Rock, Arkansas. In June 2023, she spent ten days in Little Rock participating in parades, red carpet events, and filming pageant productions outside in 110-degree heat wearing a cocktail dress in heels. While the experience was thrilling, the heat wasn’t. “My Michigan blood keeps me warm, not cool,” she jokes.

Although she didn’t win that crown Bakerson has already set her sights on the Miss USA Pageant. That is, of course, if her startup company, Netic Nails, doesn’t get in the way.

You see, despite the excitement of pageants, Bakerson had decided several years back on entrepreneurship as a career. Wanting to elevate her knowledge, she consulted her mentors who also were alumni of the University of Notre Dame. She had met them while participating in the Whirlpool Innovation Challenge in high school. Her mentors pointed her to Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

“What impressed me was Mendoza’s motto, ‘Grow the Good in Business.’ and the alumni I knew lived by the motto. I wanted to learn that and use my degree to help others,” she explains. In 2023, Bakerson graduated with a Master of Science in Management.

At that point, she had two startups. In 2022, Bakerson launched a non-profit social platform called Spondy Strong on Instagram. On it, she shares her story, educates others on the condition, and provides tools and support to kids and adults who share her condition. “The challenge with spondylolisthesis is no one knows you have it, so when you do, you suffer alone. Spondy Strong brought attention to the condition,” she explains.

But her real startup baby is Netic Nails, which she began work on in 2021, with a patent-pending nail product that she believes has the potential to revolutionizes the nail industry. The idea came from her own challenges with her nails. Beauty queens have to be, well, beautiful. That includes one’s nails. Maintaining one’s nails is expensive, time consuming and not exactly healthy.

First, manicured nails can chip within hours of being down. Nails can break. And if one invests in gel nails, taking the polish off requires harsh chemicals and drilling the polish off with a Dremel tool. A few rounds of that really damages one’s nail bed. In Bakerson’s case, her nail grew so quickly, her polish would last a week at most. She was spending more time and money on keeping her nails pageant perfect.

“At first, I wondered if I could develop a nail polish that would track nail growth, but that wasn’t feasible. So I began working on a new idea,” she says. In the meantime, she researched her market to see if there was truly a universal need for a nail solution. The women she spoke with shared their grievances: expensive manicures, how often they needed manicures, and the desire for more variety in colors and patterns. Some had given up on manicures altogether because hobbies like gardening and sports tore up their nails.

The concept Bakerson ultimately hit on was magnetic nails—hence the name, Netic Nails—where conventional polish is replaced with one, a base coat that has a magnetic component, and two, an artificial nail that also has a magnetic component. The artificial nails are available in virtually any color and endless designs. But here’s a big difference: the wearer can remove and switch out the magnetic nail whenever they want.

“With Netic Nails, all you have to do is apply your magnetic base coat and then place and connect the magnetic nails. It’s very similar to press-on nails but there’s no messy glue or the damage glue can do to your nails,” Bakerson says. “Ultimately, the wearer will be able to choose different colors, lengths and designs. They can wear them for a day, change them out for a new style, and use them again.”

She adds, “The flexibility is really appealing. You can wear your Irish green on game day and switch to a more formal set for dinner after the game. My goal is to give wearers a safer, stylish, more versatile option for their nails.”

Bakerson is currently finalizing working prototypes of Netic Nail and hope to have her minimally viable product (MVP) by March 2024. The Notre Dame IDEA Center has provided support and some funding. Bakerson hope to participate in the IDEA Center’s accelerator, which will help fast-track commercialization.

“I’m looking forward to getting into sales and marketing. My plan is to sell entirely online at first, using social media to create brand awareness and sales. I’ve created so much content and videos for pageants that this is a natural for me to do. Ultimately, I’d like Netic Nails to be picked up by the two big beauty retailers.”

Thus far, Bakerson has bootstrapped Netic Nails, mainly using money she’s won in pitch competitions like Michigan State’s Women in Business. She’s also pitched South Bend investors. Her overhead and development costs have been low as she’s leaned into her chemistry and engineering knowledge and time spent working in labs. Most of what she has raised has gone to filing for patent protection.

She says her biggest challenge to date has been prototyping. The magnets have to be strong enough to secure the nails, so the wearer doesn’t even think about their nails while going about their day. “The nails not only have to look fabulous, and deliver that no-chip appeal, they have to ‘feel’ like what people are used to and stay put. We’re almost there.”

Bakerson’s biggest win is the “phenomenal experience of taking my idea to a working prototype.”

Asked what advise she’d offer others who want to pursue entrepreneurship, Bakerson says: “Keep your dreams big and go after them. You never know what will come from it.”