COLUMBIA, Missouri — Winning Missouri Startup Weekend this spring put Chrystal Graves one step closer to revolutionizing the beauty industry, she shared, noting the victory helped secure her spot in the Scale venture fund and studio.
“I have been passionate about helping salons be profitable and inclusive for a long time, but I thought building this platform was something that would happen five years from now. To have it come together in 72 hours [at Missouri Startup Weekend], and then to have the resources, tools and mentorship through Scale — it’s been phenomenal,” said Graves, founder of All Hair Academy.
Click here to check out All Hair Academy.
Based in Columbia, Missouri — like Scale and Missouri Startup Weekend — All Hair Academy is an all-in-one salon management and e-learning platform that enables salon owners to systematize salon operations, manage a team, book and communicate with clients and expand their hands-on skills to build a scalable, profitable and inclusive beauty business.
“The beauty industry has been around for 200 years, but it hasn’t changed much since then,” said Graves, who has been working in beauty for 14 years. “I’m looking to change how the industry does business so that people are actually able to retire from beauty businesses. It’s a $225 billion industry in the U.S. alone, but the biggest problem is that a lot of money is left on the table.”
An estimated 65 percent of the U.S. population has curly, coily or wavy hair, according to a 2018 Texture Trends Report from NaturallyCurly. But only about 19 percent of salons can correctly service those clients, Graves noted.
Founded in 2021, Scale is an venture fund and studio investing monetary and social capital in early-stage tech founders. Scale focuses on the founder’s characteristics, skills and habits — rather than ideas. Scale’s goal is not to eliminate struggle but to help cultivate the required skills and mindset to prepare for it.
“Our app provides that e-learning tool to help stylists understand that [hair] texture has no skin color, no race, no background or socioeconomic status,” Graves explained, noting that she has already coached more than 170 stylists around the world.
In March, Graves pitched her idea at Missouri Startup Weekend, where she met her developer and formed a network of connections. Now participating in Scale’s fourth cohort, Graves is working on completing her minimal viable product by the end of the 12-week program, she said.
“I’ve made so many founder connections, especially connections with women-in-tech and Black and Brown women, since being announced as [Missouri] Startup Weekend winner,” Graves said. “… It’s been so inspiring having that community around me to help get me to the next step. The advice I’ve been given is to keep focused on your vision and what you want to accomplish. I always have this quote in my head that, ‘You need to have a unique set of ethics to keep with your dreams and goals.’”
Turning gigs green
Another member of Scale’s fourth cohort, Adam Green, co-founded his company UniServices out of a personal pain point.
“I started this company basically as a way for me to stop selling plasma,” Green recalled. “I sold my plasma two times a week for about a year to make money during law school to pay for my books. I had tried Uber and Grubhub and other gig services, but they weren’t paying more than minimum wage.”
Green began posting his availability for gig service jobs on Facebook and quickly realized that there was an untapped gap between community members who needed help with tasks such as lawn mowing, dog walking, tech assistance, etc. and college students who could take on the job.
UniServices is a mobile gig marketplace for college students to find high-paying jobs and for the local community to support students at an affordable rate, Green explained. UniServices is based out of East Lansing, Michigan.
Click here to check out UniServices.
“We launched our first app in October of 2022, but actually started again from scratch, rebuilt and relaunched the app at the beginning of May,” Green said. “We’re full time as of May 15, so Scale really took a chance on us before we were full time. As a first time founder and recent law school graduate, it has been super helpful having [Scale mentors] to turn to.”
Through Scale, Green is most excited to gain a better perspective on the national market, he said.
“We’ve been working on customer journey mapping — so understanding how to properly build a product around a customer’s needs. Because we make a lot of assumptions as to what we think the product should do, but you have to map out how the customer will use it and all the different pathways they could come into it,” Green explained. “We are also doing a rebranding campaign, so they are helping us how customers perceive our brand when they see it and what type of emotions we hope to emit.”
The mentors and leadership at Scale are connecting Green and his team with potential investors ahead of their full seed round, Green added.
“They’ve given us so much validation, which is what I think a lot of other student founders miss out on,” Green shared. “They have such an awareness for our well being and truly want what is best for us.”
The other five startups in Scale’s fourth cohort include:
- Cottage (New York City, New York) — An energy analytics and broker platform designed to help tenants of MFR operators. By integrating with digital thermostats, Cottage can offer real-time renewable energy planning for energy consumption and investment.
- The Renatural (New York City, New York) — The Renatural is building automated manufacturing, styling, and ordering for the future of hairpieces and wigs. The Renatural is innovating at four key points i) ordering, ii) supply chain, iii) product, and iv) distribution.
- Way (Santa Monica, California) — An intuitive nutrition platform using behavioral science, data-driven guidance and community support to help consumers improve their relationship with food.
- Company in stealth-mode (Columbia, Missouri) — an information management tool for consumers to control their personal, financial and asset data while empowering service providers to automate product offerings for a consumer’s life decisions.
- Company in stealth-mode (San Francisco, California) — This company simulates high-definition, real-world surroundings for defense, aerospace and industrial companies to create and improve multi-sensor fusion models.