Birch bio-fermentation: Aurum Skincare's journey through innovation and entrepreneurship

Birch tree

Elise McCormick and Joanne Sherrard were raising their children and working day jobs, when they decided to find a project they could collaborate on as friends. Curiosity led them on a journey into the world of cosmetic chemistry. Both women experienced irritation from eczema, acne and rosacea, and wished to develop a remedy for sensitive skin. Research, trial and error, and many iterations of recipes with glacial silt to wild rose hips eventually led them to focus on the healing properties of birch water fermentation.  

A pivotal moment came from an opportunity to collaborate with biochemist Dr. Peter Sutton to develop a specialized natural treatment process akin to fermentation. A small grant from YukonU I&E’s Innovation Fund empowered Elise to work with Dr. Sutton, and together they identified a specific sugar with wound healing properties.  

What began as a “bucket chemistry” project went on to win theAurum Skincare Yukon Innovation Prize Yukon Innovation Prize worth $70,000 in 2017.

Elise recalls that “we were starting to feel like became a goal to develop a shelf-ready product.”   

It can be challenging to invest the time and money to learn a multitude of new skills to break into a new industry. YukonU I&E’s Innovation Fund exists to support innovators like Elise and Joanne to build, test and refine their ideas to reach their potential. Receiving small and large-scale grants empowered them to complete necessary learning in stages, and to connect with consultants. De-risking the project was key to moving forward.  

“YukonU I&E invested in us at a time when we didn’t feel credible. It was motivating, it felt like a vote of confidence.”  

Aurum’s product offerings are prepared on the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, and the friends are led by the example of the First Nation’s stewardship of the land. 

“When I moved to Dawson, because of where we are, it made sense to figure out how we wouldTr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory, Dawson City connect to land. There’s a practical aspect to how to meet your needs with what’s around you. We’ve seen roads go out, power and internet outages. It’s been a time of uncertainty, so it’s important to explore that capacity to be self-sufficient.”  

Today, Aurum Skincare continues to be rooted in Dawson City, while products land on boutique shelves across the Yukon, Canada and beyond. Reflecting on the journey, Elise shared that “it was a long time before we thought of ourselves as entrepreneurs. There’s a stereotypical image of entrepreneurs on Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den. We were both mothers, thinking that we needed to be that kind of person.” Eventually, the co-founders learned that entrepreneurship is a powerful gateway to sustainability practices and caring for community, which are at the heart of Aurum’s work. 

At YukonU I&E, our team believes that Yukoners are innovators by nature. Our door is always open, and we can’t wait to hear your innovative ideas. Get in touch and book an appointment.  

Learn more about Aurum, and explore their products: 

Photo credit: Aurum Skincare website; YukonU I&E website