For Ciara May, there is no debate: businesses must start doing their part to build a greener, more sustainable future for our planet. And for her contribution to the solution, it’s all about the hair.
May is the young founder of Rebundle, a plant-based synthetic hair brand that eliminates skin rashes and single-use waste. Their mission is to provide hair products that are better for the scalp and better for the environment. And it’s a mission that May takes very seriously.
May is part of the 50 student cohort currently participating in the LaunchPad Summer Startup Fellowship. The Fellowship is a program created by Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars – in partnership with Future Founders – that was born out of the unprecedented challenges facing college students and recent graduates due to the coronavirus pandemic, including withdrawn internships, canceled pitch competitions, and increased financial constraints.
Over 330 student teams from Blackstone Launchpad’s network of 24 colleges and universities applied, with 50 of the most promising student startups making the final cut, spending eight weeks this summer growing their businesses and entrepreneurial skills through coaching, mentoring sessions, and fireside chats with seasoned entrepreneurs like Allbirds Co-Founder Tim Brown.
In addition to the LaunchPad Fellowship, May is also part of the 2020 Future Founders Startup Bootcamp, a six-month virtual program designed to help 18 to 30-year-olds turn ideas, passions, and side hustles into functioning businesses.
While May’s participation in these programs is helping her smoothly manage growth for Rebundle, her path to this point hasn’t always been easy. We recently sat down for an interview to learn more about her journey as an entrepreneur, and her dedication to building a more sustainable future. During the course of our chat, we covered everything from identifying a problem worth solving and building a network as a young entrepreneur, to why the circular economy is so vital to the future of this planet.
Read on for highlights from this enlightening conversation.
How did you get started with Rebundle?
I wear my hair in braids quite often, and last summer I had a number of reactions to the hair because I was wearing braids back-to-back. This reaction was not anything new – I had experienced it many times in my life before – but I finally got fed up, and had the time on my hands to figure out what was causing this reaction.
During my research I learned that this hair was made out of plastic, and that this plastic hair caused many women to have similar reactions. I knew that this problem could be solved, and so I started looking at it from a sustainability standpoint, trying to understand how this plastic could be recycled, and how it could be made without the petroleum products that were causing the scalp reactions that myself and so many other women were experiencing.
My initial hypothesis was that I could recycle used hair back into new hair, but the more I learned about what the hair was made of, the more clear it became that this wasn’t the smart thing to do. The smart thing to do was to introduce a new fiber that could solve both problems at the same time. And that’s how Rebundle got started.
Is this your first entrepreneurial venture?
Technically no. I started my first company in grad school called Resourceful, which helped people find scholarships for colleges. I put myself through college on scholarships, and learned everything there is to know about the process. And so I launched a business to help other people do the same thing.
Is there anything from your time running Resourceful that’s proven helpful as you build Rebundle?
Absolutely! I think my appetite for grant writing for Rebundle is as great as it is because I spent all those years writing scholarship applications.
Talk to me about your relationship with the circular economy. You seem to be the only company in the hair space that’s putting sustainability at the core of their business model. Why is that?
While I was researching hair last summer, I was simultaneously researching the circular economy, as I had become interested in learning how to reduce my waste. I was working at a university that didn’t recycle, and I lived in their housing, which also didn’t recycle. With no car, there was no way for me to recycle – and so the best thing I could come up with was reducing my waste, which is how I discovered the circular economy.
Because sustainability was top of mind, as I was researching braids it just dawned on me that there had to be a way to make this plastic hair product circular. And I knew it wasn’t being addressed, as braids are primarily used by Black Americans, and we’re generally not included in the conversation on sustainability.
How has the Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars and Future Founders Startup Bootcamp helped you on your journey as an entrepreneur?
Every step of this process has been supported by some entrepreneurship organization. Whether it’s grants, networking, pitching, mentorships – pretty much everything I’ve done has been enabled by someone else, and it’s given me a lot more exposure than I would have had without these programs. I’m pretty much a self-taught entrepreneur. I don’t come from a family of business owners, nor did I have a lot of understanding of entrepreneurship before going to school, so access to these programs refine my skills and legitimize me as a real entrepreneur.
Have there been any moments in these programs that stand out as one of the more valuable learning experiences?
The Lessons Learned fireside chat with Tim Brown from Allbirds was super helpful. It’s great to hear from leaders in other industries who keep sustainability as part of their mission, but don’t let that take away from building a great product. It’s very helpful to get that kind of perspective.
Startup Bootcamp has been super helpful in giving me something to work on each week, and serving as an accountability partner. By giving me a consistent list of things to do to grow my skills and my business, it’s really helped me manage my time and focus on continued growth.
What advice would you share with a young aspiring entrepreneur that’s just getting started on their journey?
What’s been key to my success has been saying “yes” to a lot of different things and people. I reach out to anyone that I have questions for – even if it’s barely related to what I am doing. My advice is to ask for help, and to know what you’re asking for. Before I call on anybody, I know exactly what I want so that I don’t waste their time.
To learn more about Ciara May and Rebundle, visit www.rebundle.co. And for more information on the Blackstone Launchpad powered by Techstars, visit www.blackstonelaunchpad.org.
Ready to get involved?
Join our newsletter for updates