Kimberley Yuen | Queen's University School of Medicine, Class of 2022
I decided to interview some of my Black peers that I know are doing very cool and amazing things. They are creators, doers, and inspiring people. I think it's always important to remember the world outside of medicine, and I hope these interviews showcase their talent, provide you with some perspective, and that you will become as inspired by them as I am. We must begin/continue supporting Black/BIPOC creators and doers. Here is the first interview!
Meet Aileen Agada!
I had the pleasure of getting to know Aileen in her first year of university from being her Residence Life Don. Read more about Aileen’s journey as an entrepreneur and her ground-breaking startup that aims to change the hair care industry for Black women.
Aileen is also a part of GreenHouse’s Innovators in Residence Program at St. Paul’s University College where she received the Social Impact Fund in July 2019. She has also been chosen as one of only 36 young entrepreneurs from across Canada to participate in the 2020 Next36 program, which is a Toronto-based incubator that supports entrepreneurs.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Aileen Chinwe Agada and I’m currently an engineering student at the University of Waterloo. After working in a variety of companies in Canada and spending some time in Belgium; I decided to tackle new challenges in the hair care industry with my startup, BeBlended! As a founder, I attribute my success to my hard work, supportive network, and active Christian faith. When I’m not working on BeBlended or studying engineering things, you can find me kayaking, mentoring women within my community, and spending time with friends and family.
What is BeBlended and how did it start?
BeBlended is essentially a software company tailored towards Black hairstylists. We produce tools that enable them to work more efficiently as Black hairstylists, and we’re also a marketplace that connects Black women to hairstylists worldwide. Basically, we want to create accessible haircare services for Black women globally.
The idea for BeBlended started when I was on a co-op term in Ottawa and needed to get my hair done. I walked into about 15 different hair salons and all of them unfortunately turned me away. I thought “why is this a problem that I’m experiencing?” and it turned out to be because of my hair texture - a lot of hairstylists weren’t familiar with my hair texture. I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only one experiencing this and when I asked around to find a hairstylist, it was always the same answer – it was usually a friend of a friend, of a sister of a sister of an aunt somewhere that does their hair.
What challenges or barriers do you face in your space and how do you overcome them?
When it comes to challenges and barriers, honestly, I would say when it comes to innovating in the beauty industry (beauty tech), there’s somewhat a stigma because it’s beauty and cosmetics. People think that beauty and cosmetics can’t evolve in the technical sense, but I believe it can. However, given the feedback from our users and from people that sign up on our mailing lists, a lot of people are starting to understand that this is a huge problem and the barriers are starting to recede. I think the entry point to enter the industry is easier now and people are starting to understand what beauty tech is.
I would say believing in my idea and knowing that this is a problem (aka doing the research and backing it up with data) is how I over come barriers. In the ideation stages of BeBlended, it was very hard to find Canadian data on Black women and their beauty habits, purchases, etc., and even with larger well-known databases, I still wasn’t able to find anything relevant to my target market. So, I went out on my own to gather data and created my own database. Now we have over 700 data points from Black women across Ontario that have said all the claims that we’re stating. 90% of Black women are turned away from hair salons, like that’s a fact. It’s one thing to talk about a problem, but it’s a different story when you can back it up with data. Because we have received the data, the data speaks for itself and is helping me get through these barriers. Now I just need to keep powering through start-up life pretty much!
What are you currently working on?
Currently we’re preparing to relaunch the website with Covid restrictions and working on onboarding hairstylists. Check us out at www.beblended.ca
Where do you see the direction of your work in the future?
As I mentioned, BeBlended is also a marketplace that connects Black women to hairstyles worldwide. A key part to pay attention to is worldwide – we’re not just meant to stay in Canada, we are trying to grow globally! In the future, I’m planning to work on BeBlended full time and potentially do a Master’s degree part time in business entrepreneurship and technology. I’m excited to grow with our team and user base and other funding opportunities that we’ll get a hold of.
Do you want to share any of your current thoughts regarding the Black Lives Matter movement?
I would say I’m just happy people are beginning to wake up to see the injustice in a lot of different industries towards the Black community. I’m happy people are becoming more aware. Unfortunately, it happened through the killing of George Floyd but I’m happy people are beginning to see the problems that they may have never seen before if it weren’t for this. I’m confident and hopeful that people will start moving forward, be more inclusive, see life from a different perspective, and understand the limitations put on the Black community. I’m positive that things will change.
If you want to read more about Aileen and follow her journey with BeBlended, check out the links below!