St. Petersburg entrepreneur inspires confidence after overcoming addiction and cancer

St. Petersburg resident Monica Smith, CEO and founder of Sober Roots, is an addiction and cancer survivor inspiring women to regain their confidence and self-esteem. 

Smith is from Bridgeport, Connecticut, the fourth biracial child of her mother's six children. She moves to St. Petersburg, Florida in 2001 after growing up with gang violence, becoming a single mother at the age of 17 and experiencing homelessness and drug addiction. 

After getting sober in 2012, Smith has dedicated herself to helping others. For nine years, she works at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic Baldwin Women's Residence, helping single women in recovery from substance abuse. Her mission to help others continues after her life changed dramatically in 2020 when she learns that she had colon cancer. She has surgery and goes through six months of chemotherapy, which strips her of her hair and self-esteem.

“My self-esteem was so crippled by the experience of losing my hair I felt like a monster,” Smith says. “I know what it is like to hide behind a wig, a hat, or the walls of your home because your appearance does not match who you are inside anymore. After conquering addiction and cancer, I felt more like a monster than a champion, but that’s when inspiration struck.”

The effect of the chemotherapy treatments on her hair prompts her to create the brand Sober Roots, an alcohol-free and paraben-free leave-in conditioner made with organic, essential oils. The natural oils penetrate deep to help hydrate, nourish, strengthen and repair the hair.

“All I wanted at that moment was to grow my hair back, thick, and healthy,” Smith says. “All the products I found contained alcohol, which sucked the moisture right out of my dry, curly hair. I got desperate for something that would not cause more damage. An opportunity came around, and I jumped on it. I created a light conditioning cream full of natural oils to promote strength and growth for people of all hair types.”. 

Some of the ingredients include organic avocado oil for natural protein, hyaluronic acid, coconut oil, organic argan oil, tea tree oil, rosemary oil and more organic essential oils. These natural oils not only bring life back to hair, but also give rise to confidence. Sober Roots aspires to support those on the journey back to healthy hair.

Sober Roots is part of the incubator program in the John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Tampa. The Lowth Entrepreneurship Center is part of the Sykes College of Business and is located within the Daly Innovation and Collaboration Building on campus. 

“I am trying to raise capital to help market the product, expand the line of organic products we can offer and create a partnership with distributors,” Smith says. “I am also seeking product ambassadors who believe in the mission to take on a role in the company to promote the product by receiving commission for every product sold.”

Smith aspires to create a brand culture for Sober Roots that aids in the recovery process for others who have had similar experiences with hair loss or trauma. 

For more information go to Sober Roots and University of Tampa incubator program.
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Read more articles by Meghan Christopher.

Meghan Christopher is a graduating senior at the University of Tampa pursuing a degree in advertising and public relations. Originally from Palm Harbor, her dream job is to work for a public relations agency dedicated to social change. Meghan also is on the digital communications committee for PRSA Tampa Bay and currently works as a public relations intern for Lynn Public Relations. Meghan enjoys painting, spending time with friends, and finding new places to explore in the Tampa Bay Area.