Engaged Learning

A natural entrepreneur

Malique Middleton: Student, businessman, budding dermatologist


 
malique-middleton-portrait
Malique Middleton explains how he develops specialized skin care products.

SUMMARY: JMU biology student, entrepreneur and future dermatologist Malique Middleton builds his own line of skin care products.


By Stephen Briggs

It all started with plants and bugs.

“Growing up, I was always obsessed with … life,” said junior biology major Malique Middleton. “I used to be outside all the time, bringing in all types of flowers and bugs.” Sure, kids like to play in the dirt and muck, but Middleton took it seriously. “For Christmas, I asked for a microscope,” he recalled. “Most kids don’t ask for a microscope.”

When he found out that being a biology major would allow him to explore the natural world in depth, “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, or something not aligned with my passions,” he said. “I get to sit in labs all day and learn about the different aspects of life, from the cellular level to ecology and ecosystems. It’s really inspiring for me.”

Middleton has been making his own skin care products since high school, when he discovered that the ones on the market caused his sensitive skin to break out. “My concentration is in plant biology because I get to learn about how to use those phytochemicals to treat ailments naturally,” he said.

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Middleton mixes a batch of specialized cream for use on sensitive skin.

As a freshman in Eagle Hall, he cooked batches of his skin creams in the dorm kitchen, one day attracting the notice of another resident. “She asked for some, so I gave it to her,” Middleton said. “By the end of the semester, I had maybe [25%] of the entire building coming to me to buy products.”

So, when he received an email about the entrepreneurship minor offered through the College of Business, he signed on. “My mom’s an entrepreneur herself,” he said. “She’s what she calls a ‘wing-a-preneur.’ She will start a business, get it up and running, make some money and then she’s on to the next, biggest, brightest idea. When I told her about the entrepreneurship program, she said I should think about growing my business and learning the fundamentals of how to run a business properly.”

Middleton’s entrepreneurship classroom experiences have begun paying dividends. He recently started an LLC called Liques to take his products to the marketplace, where he sees potential for his natural formulations. “I don’t use anything that is chemically derived,” he said. “It’s all essential oils, base oils, only oils that come from plants. I don’t even use preservatives. What I do use is vitamin C, extracted from oranges or other citruses.”

Another ingredient in Middleton’s formula for success came from his work in an independent research course supervised by biology professor Michael Renfroe. “I try to act as a sounding board for Malique and help provide insight and experience from my botanical knowledge as he considers various ingredients,” Renfroe said. “For some ingredients, he already knows more about them than do I, so he is doing very well in thoroughly researching his products and trying to make the best product that he can.”

After the 2014 farm bill allowed for hemp to be grown and studied in conjunction with universities, Renfroe was instrumental in partnering with two area farmers to produce research stock for JMU. In Fall 2019, Middleton attended an event with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine at a local hemp farm. He came away with some new perspectives, as well as some hemp oil that he has taken to the lab to incorporate into his products.

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Middleton (with sunglasses) makes a point during the hemp conference. JMU biology professor Michael Renfroe (far right) listens.

“We actually developed our first lip balm line with hemp oil,” Middleton said. Soap, however, is proving more challenging. “The problem with just using hemp oil for a bar of soap lies in what’s called the saponification reaction, which is basically where the fatty acids are cleaved off of the glycerol backbone. Hemp has these long fatty acid chains, so it causes the soap to take a long time to cure. So we’re looking at using a blend of hemp and coconut oil.”

Middleton has added a pre-med designation to his studies, envisioning himself a dermatologist or a Ph.D. with his own clinic and the Liques product line.

“I believe everything happens for a reason,” he said. Had he not chosen JMU, “I wouldn’t have found out about the entrepreneurship minor. I wouldn’t have been an undergraduate student doing research in a lab with Dr. Renfroe. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity to meet Senator Kaine and I wouldn’t have started thinking about developing a small skin care business because I wouldn’t have met that student in Eagle Hall.”

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Published: Friday, April 24, 2020

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 12, 2020

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