It all started with a colorful cake. It looked pretty, but was decorated with inedible pigments. Not exactly the hit of the party. But for one attendee, Albin Barrios, it was the start of a business, Doux Pigments.
Barrios was a chemical engineer in his native Venezuela. There, his specialty was creating pigments with which to paint cars. But when he moved to the United States in 2014 to escape the violence in his homeland, he realized that big businesses had already cornered the market on industrial pigments like the ones in which he specialized. Luckily, he had another trick up his sleeve.
When Barrios was earning his master’s degree in industrial pigments in Germany in the early 1990s, a professor tasked him with a thesis project that involved coming up with vivid colors that would help decorate a boxful of chocolates intended for Pope John Paul II. Barrios was able to create odorless, flavorless colors from many of the same ingredients he used on cars (mainly mica), but without the added aluminum that made them inedible. The result is intensely colorful but also pearlescent, not unlike the finish on a vehicle.
When Barrios saw (and of course, did not eat) that fateful cake, he knew it was time to use the skills he developed for his master’s thesis again. He moved quickly at first. In 2015, the pigments received FDA approval. The following year, the Houston resident found BakerRipley, an organization that connects low-income individuals to opportunities that help nurture their businesses. BakerRipley offers classes in Barrios’s native Spanish, and Barrios took full advantage.
The new skills he learned included figuring out how to incorporate, first as a DBA, then an LLC. He named the company Doux Pigments, referring to the French word that means soft and sweet. But his biggest triumph owing to BakerRipley was winning the Grow category last year in its annual Lanzate Houston business competition.
Barrios also learned to leverage his contacts around the world. Though he has both English and Spanish-speaking salespeople in the United States, he’s also lucky to have a daughter who lives in Colombia. She’s in charge of sales across South America.
Doux sells directly to bakeries, but also to bars looking to create colorful cocktails. He says that he’s proud that just five years after moving to a new country, he’s recognized among other business owners as a force. “When people see me at the fairs, they already know who I am,” he says.
Barrios hopes that within the next few years, he’ll expand across the United States, eventually selling his product nationwide. But while he’s gotten some great help along the way, he says his greatest asset is his passion. “I wake up at 4 in the morning most days because I’m so excited to get started that I can’t sleep,” he admits.
And more quickly than expected, customers are matching his ardor. All thanks to that inedible cake.