When Aileen Agada moved to the Waterloo region, she found it next to impossible to find a salon that catered to Black women. The experience inspired the engineering student to found BeBlended, an online platform that connects Black women with hairstylists. Agada got her start with the support of GreenHouse, Waterloo’s entrepreneurship program for social ventures. She was also recently selected to be part of Canada’s Next36 program, a prestigious program for Canada’s most entrepreneurial undergrads.
Tell us about one thing that has happened in the BeBlended community during this difficult time that has given you hope.
How has the COVID-19 situation caused you to pivot your business model?
We will now be incorporating ways to deliver hair care products to our customers. A number of the beauty supply stores that cater to men and women with afro-textured hair are currently closed and don't have prominent online stores. With this new pivot, our team is working really hard to make our customers’ hair care experience easier.
How will you serve your community of stylists and BeBlended clients during the pandemic shutdown of non-essential businesses?
We plan to keep our clients and stylists engaged through our social media channels. We’ll be featuring hair tutorials for popular hair styles while incorporating humorous hair-related content to keep everyone’s spirits up! With everything being closed, we will also use this opportunity to gather more data from our clients and stylists to further develop BeBlended’s platform.
What can Canada do to support new startups right now?
Given the circumstances, Canada is already doing a great job at supporting businesses. However, I would love to see more grant opportunities for new startups like BeBlended. Since we’re fairly new, our revenue isn’t as stable, and we aren’t eligible for the current benefit options available.
What’s the best thing about building your business in Canada?
All the funding opportunities. Building a start-up in Canada has truly been a blessing. When it comes to financial support, I’ve experienced first-hand how willing organizations are to help your business progress. I also genuinely love Canada, so what better place to start a business?
What’s the biggest challenge?
It’s definitely challenging paving the way for innovation in the beauty industry. In the ideation stages of BeBlended, it was very hard to find Canadian data on Black women and their beauty habits, purchases, etc. Even with larger well-known databases, I still wasn’t able to find anything relevant to my target market. Despite this setback, I decided to gather my own data and create my own database. After lots of hard work, I now have relevant information from more than 800 Black women across Ontario and Quebec.
Tell us about a Canadian (entrepreneur or not) that you most admire and why.
I admire my Canadian-Nigerian parents. They’ve sacrificed so much to create a better life for my brothers and me here in Canada. Despite how challenging their transition was, they’ve truly integrated themselves into the Canadian culture and have taught me to always pursue education and follow my passion.
Canadians are known for saying sorry. A lot. Tell us about a time when you had to apologize while building your business.
BeBlended’s core operations are currently based in Waterloo, so I’ve had to apologize a few times to clients who want our services in Barrie, London, Windsor, etc. We’ll be expanding to those cities soon, just not yet. Sorry!
What’s your favourite Canadian tune?
Mountaintop by The City Harmonic.
Stay informed about BeBlended by signing up here.
Photography by Hilary Gauld Camilleri at One for the Wall and Matt Regehr, multimedia design manager at the University of Waterloo