On February 19 and 20, over 600 attendees joined this year’s virtual 47th Annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference: “Blueprint: Bridging Pathways to Scale Black Ingenuity.” Organized by the African American MBA Association Club (AAMBAA), the event is Wharton’s longest student-run conference.
“The conference theme, ‘Bridging Pathways to Scale Black Ingenuity,’ is a call to action for Black businesses,” said Wharton Dean Erika James in her opening remarks. “I’m a believer in the power of business and education to transform not just the world of business but also to stimulate meaningful change in our shared social and cultural worlds.”
This year’s conference featured two exciting initiatives: the Innovation and Black Entrepreneurship Series and the New Venture Competition (NVC). The New Venture Competition, a pitch competition for early-stage Black-founded businesses, launched in Fall 2020. Out of over 160 ventures, three Wharton-founded startups — Welltrip, Steamster, and Hairtelligence — were among the top 20 semifinalists. Hairtelligence continued to the finalist round, where co-founder and CEO Isoken Igbinedion, WG’21, pitched her beauty tech startup to a panel of live judges at the conference.
Addressing the Problem
“For African American women, Black hair can be synonymous with Black identity. As we grow up, we learn about the hundreds of ways we can style and care for our hair. The versatility does come with a dark side fueled by the pressure to conform with mainstream beauty standards,” Isoken said.
From limited access to quality hair professionals and high prices to long wait times and appointments, customizing hair products is a customer journey filled with friction. Hairtelligence seeks to transform the process and remedy these pain points.
Providing the Solution
Hairtelligence is the first direct-to-consumer business model in the hair customization space and ships ready to wear.
“We believe that women deserve a faster, affordable, and more intuitive solution,” Isoken said.
Hairtelligence uses computer vision powered technology to remedy all three of these customer pain points. Consumers use smartphone cameras to capture their facial dimensions and then virtually choose and customize hair and extension products, all from the comfort and convenience of their homes.
Looking to the Future
Hairtelligence won “Crowd Favorite” for its innovative business model. So far, the startup has concluded its minimal viable product (MVP) and is working on refining the algorithm that captures facial features and dimensions.
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Isoken said, “We plan to have a fully operational process ready by May and we’re hoping to do a stealth launch just to really understand what are the product offerings that customers actually want. We’ll take that information and we’ll be able to refine our product offering for a larger launch.”
Semifinalist Fast Facts
Mission: Enable patients of all backgrounds access to high quality and affordable medicine in any corner of the world.
Co-founders: Ike Okonkwo, WG’22 (& Lauder) and Patrick Prommel, WG’22 (& Lauder)
Company Stage: Prototype
Welltrip arose from the co-founders’ personal calling to democratize healthcare, leveraging their experiences abroad to provide an alternative to high-costs, long-wait times, and restrictive insurance networks found in the U.S. The startup is a healthcare marketplace that connects medical travelers with accredited and peer-reviewed doctors abroad at one half the U.S. price or less.
Mission: Help students LEAP into a brighter future through Learning, Exploration, Activation, and Play.
Co-founders: Jeff Ponders II, W’04, & David Webber
Company Stage: Pre-product
Led by a proven team of entrepreneurs, educators, and parents, Steamster is an edtech platform that develops personalized, interactive learning tools to enhance leading streaming content. The startup is bridging experience-developing unicorn companies like StockX with consumer trends in tech and media to help solve some of education’s greatest challenges.
— Erin Lomboy, W’21
Posted: March 5, 2021