LOWELL -- When Joan Beeson Healy launched giveBeauty in the fall of 2004 as a UMass Lowell incubator business, she hoped the beauty gift-giving service would simply set up for a solid future by generating some first-year buzz.
Her plan was novel: Create a gift card that's easy to purchase online via visiting her Web site (www.givebeauty.com), so it can be presented as a birthday, anniversary or holiday present to women who are not necessarily easy to please.
With the giveBeauty card, recipients can pay for services or products at any of the company's member salons and beauty service providers around the country. Thus, it acts as a debit card for the beauty industry.
Beeson Healy and her Lowell-based business achieved four noteworthy milestones in 2005:
* The fashionista Web site, www.dailycandy.com, featured giveBeauty in March, generating an immediate 1,100 hits on the www.givebeauty.com Web site.
* In November, Beeson Healy presented her company's business plan before approximately 350 potential investors at Harvard Business School.
* Beeson Healy, 44 and a mother of seven, became a cover girl. John Laurenza, publisher of Boston beauty magazine Mirror, asked her to pose for the cover of his winter 2005 issue, which also featured a Q&A about giveBeauty.
* Within the past month, the 2,500-strong national Aveda Salon chain agreed to enter into business with giveBeauty. Eleven Aveda Salons, including one in Andover, are already members, meaning recipients can use their cards to purchase any service or product there. Beeson Healy is working to sign up the other 2,400-plus Aveda Salons as soon as possible.
The Harvard event, organized by The Springboard Foundation and The Center For Women in Enterprise in conjunction with Harvard and MIT's Sloane School, has catapulted other female business owners to major entepreneurial success. Among its alumnae is Helen Greiner, co-founder of Burlington-based iRobot Corp.
Beeson Healy, a former high-tech marketing executive and one of 11 children, started giveBeauty as a way to keep up on gifts for her sisters around the country. She said she had a few jitters before facing the crowd at Harvard until receiving words of encouragement from her husband, Mike Healy.
"He said, "Just go out and tell them your story,'" she recalled.
Springboard Enterprises President Amy Millman, who had studied her presentation and told her the company could make it really big, also gave her confidence.
"It was such a huge boost for me. I just felt so honored," Healy said.
A 10-year Lowell resident, Beeson Healy met her earliest giveBeauty investors at a Lowell charity fashion show where she was modeling clothing. "There are a lot of really great Lowell people who have put their faith in me," she said. She raised more than $250,000 to get started.
Beeson Healy's three biggest investors to date are women with prominent area ties: Susan Anton Pasanen, whose family owns the Tewksbury-based Antons Cleaners chain; Linda Chemaly, who co-owns Trinity Ambulance with her husband, John; and Celeste Wetherall, whose husband is former CMGI Chairman and CEO David Wetherall.
"She told me her idea when we were getting ready for the fashion show," Anton Pasanen said. "Joan is the most dedicated, able person I've ever met."
Having had a difficult experience trying to arrange a massage for her mother on Cape Cod, Anton Pasanen knew Beeson Healy was onto something. "As women, we have enough stuff. We want services," Anton Pasanen said.
In addition to the Aveda salon in Andover, several Lowell spas, including Inizio Day Spa, Salon City and Body Therapies, are among a growing list of local giveBeauty member salons.
The business generates revenue from fees on each gift-card purchase and from payments made by salons to be part of the network.
A San Diego native who attended college in northern California, Beeson Healy has contacts out West and elsewhere who have helped her sign up additional salons. Anton Pasanen's sister, also a major investor, has made inroads marketing the service to New York City beauty professionals.
"New York has taken to this; they don't want to miss out on the latest thing," Anton Pasanen said.
Beeson Healy and her husband are now considering other services, particularly to target male professional sports enthusiasts. They are in talks with golf-industry professionals to create a gift-card business that would be utilized at semi-private courses around the country.