Rowing inspires recent grad’s business idea

Debora Van Brenk // Western News

Nicole Baranowski is graduating with a degree in Kinesiology and Sports Management, an invitation to national rowing tryouts and a business startup for a novel, customizable hair tie.

Editor’s Note: Follow along every day as 19 distinguished individuals receive honorary degrees and the academic accomplishments of hundreds of students are celebrated as Western hosts its 313th Convocation.

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After spending much of the past year testing innovative ways to keep her hair in check during workouts on the water, Nicole Baranowski is forgoing the casual-chic look during Convocation.

“I don’t usually let my hair down. So when I do, it’s really special,” said the Kinesiology and Sports Management graduate. “I may wear a purple HairStrong on my wrist, though.”

HairStrong is an adjustable scrunchie Baranowski developed through Western’s Propel Entrepreneurship incubator. Billed as the world’s first customizable hair band, HairStrong is designed to help athletes keep their hair from flying around as they play. Unlike conventional hair ties, it’s no-slide and tightens to lock hair into a ponytail or bun every time.

Baranowski came up with the idea during a course on entrepreneurship when her professor challenged the class to come up with a marketable idea.

“The only thing that popped up for me was that my hair would get in the way whenever I worked out,” said the multi-sport athlete from Holland Landing, Ont., the first person in her family to attend university.

By December, a HairStrong prototype was ready. By May, she started learning about business, marketing and entrepreneurship as a participant in Propel. She hopes the band will be in full production within months.

Baranowski’s story is one of thousands of unique narratives of challenge and perseverance being celebrated this month during two weeks of Convocation for Western’s graduating Class of 2019.

And while committed to the product, her passion for rowing and pursuit of a berth on the Canadian rowing team might also have some say in how far she pursues HairStrong. She received an invitation to try-outs this month for the national under-23 team in Victoria, B.C.

It’s a monumental achievement for someone who had never rowed until she signed up for the novice program in her second year at Western.

In her third year of studies, she earned a spot on the Western Rowing team that won provincial and national titles. This past school year, rowing in both eights and single sculls, she was named captain of Western Women’s Rowing.

In the fall, Baranowski plans to return to Western to row and work towards a masters degree in International Business at Ivey Business School.

She values her four years here for the rowing community, the friends she made, supportive professors and entrepreneurial culture. “What this experience did is open my mindset to so many opportunities I wouldn’t have had without Western,” she said.