CYstarters Spotlight: Tom Collins Soap Co.

By Lindsey Murray | ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship

CYstarters Spotlight: A 15-part series highlighting student entrepreneurs pursuing their business ventures as part of the CYstarters 2023 summer cohort. Through this program, students have the unique opportunity to prioritize the development of their own startup or business idea. Each individual receives $6,500 and access to resources such as mentorship, networking opportunities, and educational sessions on entrepreneurship and business startup.

Tommy Collins (left) and business partner, Michael Joensen (right).

In the spring of 2021, Tommy Collins and Michael Joensen were soaking up the final months of their senior year of high school. As competitive track athletes at Ankeny Centennial (following in their fathers’ footsteps), sports consumed much of their time and effort outside of school. The camaraderie and competition kept them running and ultimately developed in each of them a long-lasting affection for health and wellness.

As active as he was, Tommy tried out numerous over-the-counter soaps that were marketed to men, in an attempt to stay clean and smell good. The problem, he discovered, was that many of these soaps contained ingredients that dried out his skin and even caused uncomfortable rashes. More importantly, they didn’t provide an all-day clean feeling or smell. He noticed this problem among his fellow teammates as well, laughing as he explained, “High school guys’ locker rooms are brutal.”

Tom Collins Soap Co. bar soap, freshly stamped with custom company logo.

Collins stumbled upon the idea of natural soap and began formulating his own concoction to try and combat this problem. His first few attempts at soap-making didn’t look pretty but the product he developed made his skin feel clean and healthy without unwanted side effects. With excitement about his product and high praise from his mother about how great he smelled, Tom Collins Soap Co. was born, in the safety of his parents’ garage.

In July of 2022, having developed a product he was excited about and wanted to share, he brought Michael onto the team to help build the business. Joensen downplayed this project as a nice hobby until he understood the lack of natural self-care products specifically marketed to men. He quickly realized the potential for growth of the business and is now just as excited as Collins to share these products with the community.

The mission of Tom Collins Soap Co. is this: to promote and encourage self-care for men and to make quality skincare products more accessible and acceptable for them to purchase.  Joensen says, “We don’t want to be embarrassed to walk into the Target beauty section and get something to take care of ourselves.” For Tom Collins Soap Co., this means eliminating the stigma around men desiring to take care of their skin and finding new ways of empowering them to do just that.


Both Joensen and Collins have always had an entrepreneurial mindset. “I’ve always enjoyed creating something from nothing,” said Joensen regarding what excites him about entrepreneurship. “Sure, I can build something from an instruction manual and follow it to a T, but I take more pride in saying I did it by myself and we created something really awesome.” Having witnessed family members start businesses from the ground up and experiencing desk jobs that they knew wouldn’t be fulfilling, Joensen and Collins knew they didn’t want to pursue a traditional career path. To start something themselves, work hard to develop it and ultimately see the fruits of their labor is what drives the mission of Tom Collins Soap Co. and why they make each bar of soap by hand, with a purpose.

Tom Collins Soap Co. products on display at Z.W. Mercantile, a local shop in Ames, IA, promoting sustainable living.

To gauge if this business idea would work on a larger scale, Collins took it in front of a crowd. During his freshman year at Iowa State, he won first place at the Fall Startup Pitch Competition hosted by the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. With this confidence boost and $1,600 in sales for the company at this point, the pair wanted to figure out next steps for pursuing their business full time. They decided, with encouragement from ISU faculty and staff, to apply for CYstarters and were selected to participate in the program operated by the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. They applied knowing they would be provided funding, accountability and the opportunity to prioritize their business over the summer but are walking away with more knowledge and support then they could’ve imagined.

The challenges they have faced as young business owners have been difficult, but CYstarters has provided them with invaluable resources and connections that have helped them to shift their mindset and push hard to pursue their dreams. “CYstarters has made it so easy to feel like we’re a legitimate business. You also get a community of people who believe in you…”, said Collins as the pair expressed gratitude for the incredible support and friendships made within the 2023 summer cohort. After touching on the endless opportunities to network and present their business at local events such as 1 Million Cups (a weekly event for entrepreneurs and community members to connect), both Collins and Joensen gave high praise for the CYstarters program. They want to encourage incoming and existing students to seriously consider getting involved in entrepreneurship programs offered and to utilize the ever-growing list of resources available on campus.

Joensen and Collins selling Tom Collins Soap Co. products at the Student Innovation Center open house on September 1, 2022 alongside past and future CYstarters.

Both Collins (20) and Joensen (20) are heading into their senior year at Iowa State University.  The two have been friends since 8th grade and are more excited than ever to be doing business together. Collins is client-facing, handling marketing and advertising, while Joensen handles the logistics and financials. At the end of the day, they come together to produce the soap and make company decisions. Their differing skillsets and diligence have helped to naturally establish their dynamic roles within the company and have led the team to great success in their short time together.

Leaving CYstarters with $3,000 in sales for their company and hoping to expand their wholesale customer base, Collins and Joensen are eager to see how far they can take Tom Collins Soap Co. As a community, we can support these young entrepreneurs by purchasing their products locally at Z.W. Mercantile, or on their website. Follow along on Instagram to support and see what’s in store for the future of Tom Collins Soap Co.