Some coaching. A conversation. Then quitting.
That was roughly the sequence of events some five years ago that led up to Candace Mitchell’s sitting in the seat of startup success.
As she tells it, the 29-year-old Tech alumna would not likely be leading a haircare revolution with the haircare recommendation system Myavana had it not been for the intense startup education she received at Georgia Tech while pursuing her undergraduate degree in computer science.
She remembers her experience at Tech as one she wouldn’t “trade for the world” and fondly recalls how coaching from — and conversations with — College of Computing Distinguished Professor Merrick Furst propelled her into full-blown entrepreneurship.
“He had a huge impact on my entrepreneurial career. Not only was he my professor — a very tough professor, I have to add — he really opened my eyes to how to start a business and how to fulfill the needs of your customer,” said Mitchell. “I remember after a conversation we had, I decided to quit my job in corporate America and pursue entrepreneurship full-time.”
Through mentorship and funding from Tech’s Flashpoint startup accelerator program developed by Furst, Mitchell was able to get her company off the ground.
Today, as CEO of Myavana, she oversees a staff of nine, runs a store in the historic Castleberry Hill district in downtown Atlanta, and has more than 22,000 registered users on the free Myavana mobile app.
The app enables a community of women to connect with each other to track and share their haircare journey.
For a monthly membership fee, Myavana can guide subscribers on that journey, leading them to “my hair nirvana” (the meaning of Myavana) through scientific — and personalized — hair analysis.
It’s that personalization, according to lab analyst Asia Wilson, that sets Myavana apart in today’s $500 billion haircare industry.
“No one in the market right now is doing what Myavana does as far as personalized haircare,” Wilson said.
And it’s because of the Georgia Tech science and technology base underpinning Myavana that Mitchell and her team have been able to carve out this personalization niche.
The Tech Connection
Having studied chemical engineering — also at Tech — Wilson provides the hair strand analysis that generates the individualized haircare plan that directs each customer to the specific products, styles, and haircare regimens best for her particular hair type.
Wilson’s routine involves a weekly run to Myavana’s post office box to collect customer samples. She then takes these samples to a Georgia Tech biological cleanroom, where she uses a high-definition microscope to assess key hair characteristics including porosity, elasticity, and texture. At the end of a two- to three-week period, customers have their complete profile that will not only guide them with haircare recommendations for their specific haircare needs but will also equip them with crucial information to share with their stylist at the next salon visit.
The Root of It
Wilson says “getting to the root of issues customers may be experiencing with their hair” is what she most enjoys about her job as Myavana lab analyst. But what makes her most proud to be a part of Myavana?
“Being on a team that desires to change the beauty industry for the better by merging engineering with haircare,” she says. “But also, it is inspiring to be on a team with African-American women who are so intelligent and knowledgeable about science and technology. It's like being a part of history.”
For Mitchell, that very aspect of making inroads into spaces — science, technology, and entrepreneurship — not typically traversed by young, female African-Americans is always top-of-mind.
“I feel that I’m a trailblazer for women of color to have more opportunities in the tech industry, and I’ve also been a pioneer in combining two seemingly different fields [beauty and technology],” she says. “I feel empowered to open doors and break ceilings so that more women like me can achieve their dreams.”
Apart from public speaking, volunteering at schools, and her plans to start a formal program to educate young women on STEM through hair and beauty, Mitchell has even authored a motivational book, The Shift: How to Face Your Fears and Manifest Your Dreams, in which she shares her “personal reflections on the mind shift it takes to gain the courage, confidence, tenacity, and perseverance to face your fears and bring your dreams to life.”
Indeed, without question, she sees herself as a role model.
“I absolutely know that I’m a role model from the number of peers and younger people who share how much they are inspired and encouraged by my journey. I feel responsible to give back and think about how our business can have social impact in our local community through the lens of entrepreneurship, beauty, and technology,” she says. “It’s all about giving back and sharing the knowledge so that others can become successful, too.”