2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Halo Braid, Harvard Business School

Halo Braid

Harvard Business School

Industry: Beauty/Software-Enabled Hardware

Founding Student Name(s): Yinka Ogunbiyi, David Afolabi

Brief Description of Solution: Halo Braid is a mission-driven technology company empowering individuals with cutting-edge tools to engineer healthier and happier hair. Our premier product, Halo Braid Pro, is an automated hair braider that saves time for stylists and the 180 million women who get their hair braided regularly. Halo Braid Pro reduces the time it takes to braid hair from six hours to minutes, empowering stylists to triple their business. We’re bringing innovation to an overlooked industry that hasn’t changed in thousands of years.

Funding Dollars: We’re closing our pre-seed round with over $1 million in funding and won $170 thousand in non-dilutive funding from pitch competitions including the HBS New Venture Competition ($80K) and the Amika x SoGal Foundation Rooted in Growth Grant.

What led you to launch this venture? During the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, I tried braiding my own hair for the first time. It took me four days. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve been wearing braids my whole life, and braiding usually takes six or more hours. However, as a mechanical engineer, I was struck by the repetitive nature of the task. Starting the braid was an art-form—and really difficult—but finishing the braid felt like sewing by hand instead of using a machine. I found myself wondering why there wasn’t a device to help people with braiding, especially because it’s now the most popular hairstyle among Black women. When I didn’t find a device that actually worked, I spoke to almost 200 stylists and clients and heard the same complaint again and again: It takes too long to braid hair.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with the venture? We built a working prototype that can triple the speed of braiding appointments.

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company and how did you solve it? Our biggest challenge is also our greatest accomplishment. Building a working prototype has been immensely difficult. Usually, when you create a hardware product, there’s an existing product you can copy and optimize. In our case, there are rope braiding machines, toy braiding machines, and robots, but none of them work for braiding hair on a human’s head. To solve this, we brought together a multidisciplinary team of mechanical, electrical, robotics engineers, designers, and braiding stylists, built over 100 prototypes, and ran countless design sprints. We’re really a deep tech startup with a beauty finish.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The MBA Program at Harvard was invaluable. The networking opportunities among students and alumni have helped us find team members, customers, advisors, and investors. The tangible learnings have also been extremely helpful—from the fundamentals of financial planning, fundraising, equity, and cap tables, to social media marketing strategy and design thinking. It’s easy to make countless mistakes at any stage of a startup. Our MBA education has helped us make fewer mistakes and make them faster.  Lastly, the funding and grants available to support our startup have been helpful in de-risking the early stages of our startup.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you?  Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder of Bumble and an incredibly successful woman entrepreneur, is a huge inspiration. She founded Bumble while we were sophomores in college. She challenged the established rules of dating culture, empowered women to gain control and freedom, and overcame personal adversity and a negative previous startup experience to transform an antiquated industry.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? The Dr, John toothbrush case in TEM (the Entrepreneurial Manager) was the most valuable concise lesson. I wish I’d had the lessons from that class before co-founding my first startup. It would have saved us millions of dollars. The case demonstrated the importance of knowing your startup’s end goal, and making sure that every strategic decision—team members, partnerships, revenue growth, distribution—aligns closely with the end goal rather than letting your startup happen to you.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Professor Tom Eisenmann, who runs the joint MS/MBA Program at HBS and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. I first spoke to him when Halo Braid was a nascent idea. I had written a pitch that sounded compelling, but hadn’t interviewed a single person. I drew a sketch on his whiteboard of how the device could work and encouraged me to pursue the idea. He’s been extremely supportive and the engineering and business development time with the MS/MBA students made Halo Braid possible.

Christina Wallace taught our section’s TEM class (along with Professor Mitch Weiss). She’s been so generous with her time and advice, both inside and outside of class. She’s also been vulnerable and candid in sharing her own experiences and learnings as a startup founder.

If not for Startup Ops with Julia Austin, Halo Braid would not exist. She gave us practical tools for operating a startup and finding accountability partners and a focused community of builders among a school of MBA students.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? We’re very lucky to be part of the Boston and Harvard i-Lab startup community and learn from the talent and expertise in Boston and Cambridge. We discovered our industrial design team through the local Harvard/hardware startup network and have been lucky enough to use their lab space to develop prototypes. We’ve been fortunate to connect with other hardware founders through Boston meetups and get their advice on engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and raising money.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Each year, eight billion hours are spent braiding hair. We want to save one billion hours for women each year.


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