Like the rower she is, Nicole Baranowski knew launching a company while still in school would be a matter of focus, endurance and balance. But she had not anticipated an angel investor would provide a welcome tailwind just two years after launch.
Baranowski’s company Hairstrong, has landed a deal with Clearco, the world’s largest e-commerce investor, which is helping grow the company with a $13,000 infusion through its new ClearAngel program. ClearAngel gives startups access to revenue-share capital, data-driven advice, and Clearco’s network of business supports.
Hairstrong is a London, Ont.-made adjustable hair tie that doesn’t slip or loosen, even during the most strenuous exercise.
Baranowski, BHsc’19, launched her product just before she graduated and then spent the next several months promoting it at market pop-ups, fitness competitions, sports events and online.
She won a pitch competition at Ivey Business in January 2020, while completing her MSc in international business, and seemed well on her way.
Then the pandemic hit, markets closed and competitive sports ground to a halt.
“To translate all that drive from in-person events to online marketing was a bit difficult,” she acknowledged.
At the same time, she did a gruelling six-month educational exchange program – all online and on Australia time. “I kept telling myself, if you can survive these few months, you can survive anything.”
The work paid off and sales continued to climb. For example, she received a large wholesale order from a distributor in Poland who found her company on Instagram.
She applied to ClearAngel and they were impressed with the product, her approach and her work ethic.
Baranowski had no way of knowing the waves she would have to overcome in promoting and selling her unique stay-put scrunchie.
Amidst the schoolwork, business and personal life, something had to ‘give.’ She left the world of competitive rowing after three award-winning years on the water, including a year as captain of Western Women’s Rowing.
“I trained for 20 to 30 hours a week and my routine was: ‘row, school, row, Hairstrong, study, bed.’ So it was difficult to suddenly stop rowing or training for a purpose,” said Baranowski, who hails from Holland Landing, Ont., but lives in London.
Two years since launch, Hairstrong has generated more than $100,000 in revenue.
The product is getting rave reviews from long-haired casual and elite athletes alike.
Baranowksi has now applied to Western’s Morrissette Accelerator entrepreneurship program to learn how to grow the company.
“I definitely set some high expectations for myself. I have high goals and just have to realize that with the bootstrap resources I have, I can still get it done.”
And she uses the same drive that made her successful as a rower: “Whatever works, I push forward; and whatever doesn’t work, I just leave behind.”