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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 17, 202205:00 AM EST

Startups under 30: Brianna Kilcullen, Anact

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Brianna Kilcullen’s hemp towel company Anact, founded in 2018, is entering big box stores and moving its HQ to Austin, Texas.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

When Brianna Kilcullen left Jacksonville in March for a family wedding in Ireland, she was planning a seed round to boost growth capital for her sustainable hemp-made towel startup Anact.

A positive COVID-19 test turned her trip into a two-week quarantine, which the 33-year-old said gave her time to think about expansion and a stream of outreach requests from Austin, Texas.

“It felt like there was this synergy, this electricity and energy that was moving around Austin,” Kilcullen said.

On June 6, Anact was accepted into the Austin-based entrepreneur and startup incubator Capital Factory.

Kilcullen said she is moving Anact’s corporate headquarters, which she founded in 2018 at age 28 in Jacksonville, to the organization’s cowork space in Austin.

Anact will maintain its warehouse and distribution operations with fulfillment service provider shipping-and-handling.com on Philips Highway in Jacksonville, Kilcullen said.

Anact’s push to create a sustainably made towel ramped up in 2019 with a Kickstarter campaign.

Kilcullen, Anact founder and CEO, said she chose hemp because it is eco-friendly. Anact says one of its hemp towels saves 526 days worth of drinking water.

She conceived the idea for the company in 2017 at age 27.

“I had this frustration with my bath towels picking up this mildewy smell. I had this obsession with hemp and its performance features and its sustainability,” she said.

Anact products are in specialty retail stores in most U.S. states and 10 countries.

Kilcullen said as of June, she is Anact’s only full-time employee. The company’s other eight workers are part-time/fractional employees based remotely throughout the U.S., Canada, Montenegro, South Africa and the country of Georgia.

Since the decision to expand to Austin, Kilcullen says the startup has “just been crushing it.”

Kilcullen grew up in Atlantic Beach with her brother, Michael Kilcullen, mother, Mary Jo Kilcullen, and father Matt Kilcullen Jr., a former head men’s basketball coach for Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida.

After graduating from George Washington University, Brianna Kilcullen worked at Under Arnmour in Baltimore where she learned materials sourcing, supply chain and manufacturing processes, and how to negotiate trade agreements.

Kilcullen created a supply chain audit procedure and sustainability program while at Under Armour.

She said she thought the company used the program as a compliance and public relations tool to retain or gain contracts as opposed to a brand asset.

After four years, she left for the California-based sustainable clothes retailer prAna.

Kilcullen’s inspiration for Anact started with the lack of sustainable practices and poor working conditions she saw working 7½ years in the textile industry.

“I realized that I’m complicit,” Kilcullen said.

“We should know these processes behind how our clothes are made.”

Anact is a 4-year-old company founded in Jacksonville that produces and sells sustainable hemp-based towels nationwide and in 10 countries.

She left corporate textiles and retreated to her parents’ spare house in Melbourne for six months to create the Anact concept, branding and build initial business relationships.

In 2019, Kilcullen worked with Florida policymakers to legalize hemp production.

Kilcullen took her business plan to the UNF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for guidance. She was part of the first group in the center’s incubator program.

Anact leased its first warehouse and inventory space on the Barnett Building’s unfinished sixth floor.

The center was based in the building.

Center Director Karen Bowling said June 7 by email she watched the Anact founder educate customers, suppliers and potential business partners about hemp as a commodity product and overcoming funding struggles “without any loss of enthusiasm.”

In April 2021, Kilcullen said she risked alienating some of her customer base by accepting Amazon’s offer to sell and be a strategic brand partner on its platform.

Kilcullen said the risk was worth the market scalability.

“I genuinely believe that business is a good mechanism as long as you put social environmental standards and your conscientiousness around how you’re doing business,” Kilcullen said.

Anact has received criticism for manufacturing towels in China, she said.

She said she toured the family-owned plant and met with the farm organizer in 2019 to verify the working conditions are safe and equitable.

Kilcullen said selecting China was a necessity. She said the county is a market leader in the cultivation and production of hemp fiber and hemp-based product manufacturing.

Anact’s primary backers are in Florida, with two investors from Amelia Island and St. Petersburg, she said.

Kilcullen said Anact’s future is more in market scalability than product expansion.

Kilcullen said June 1 that Anact signed a sales partnership with one of the largest big-box global home-goods suppliers. She did not disclose which company.

Anact’s sales on Amazon are growing at 20%-plus month-over-month while the company’s wholesale channel is growing at 20%, according to Kilcullen.

She said the company secured more than $300,000 in investments in 2021 with a goal of $1 million in annual sales by the end of 2022.

“We’re doing something that provides so much value to our customer, to the garment worker, to the planet,” Kilcullen said.

“Having a conscience and having a purpose around it, I think is able to see me through the darkest days and the biggest hurdles, because this is what we’re fighting for.”

Submitted photo: Acact founder and CEO Brianna Kilcullen.

 

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