How Aja Labs is Creating Sustainable Beauty Solutions
Aja Labs CEO & Co-Founder Osahon Ojeaga, an IFEL entrepreneur, is a world-changing visionary who is revolutionizing the hair extension industry. Starting out in Silicon Valley, Osahon had a successful career working for fintech and software startups. But she had a deeper vision - for her culture, for women, for the environment and for the world - and that vision was just the beginning.
Planting The Seeds Of Change
Through her personal experiences with using and selling hair extensions and braids and after traveling extensively in Asia, Ojeaga grew very disillusioned with the hair industry and the toll it was exacting on the health of consumers and the environment. After extensive research, she realized that individual users can spend between $2000 and $5000 yearly on hair extensions and that no products existed which addressed the health and safety of both consumers and the environment.
Safe For People & Safe For The Environment
A Black-owned venture-backed material and fiber science innovation firm, Aja Labs manufactures a patent-pending hair made from plants. Nourie, the company's first consumer brand, features hair extensions with a unique time-release function that delivers a nutrient complex over time during wear.
Osahon founded Aja Labs in conjunction with Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Mary Moore, a materials and polymer engineer. “She is a brilliant mind, a visionary and a comedian with a hysterical sense of humor,” noted Osahon with a smile, adding that they actually met on LinkedIn and decided to team up in business.
"Beauty and fashion technology are the material representations of our culture and the items that come in contact with our bodies daily," said Osahon. "Black women, in particular, have been subjected to some of the lowest quality materials by way of fashion and beauty products, leading to irritation, contamination, and disease. We are championing a new future in which sustainability and wellness are paramount. From both an economic and a cultural perspective, better-made hair extensions are a meaningful flagship endeavor for us."
Opening The Doors To Capital Access - Making Of Black Angels
Osahon became aware of IFEL through a professional associate and connected immediately with Melanie Seymour, a financial expert who was part of the vast IFEL volunteer network at the time. Melanie dove right in to start opening doors for Aja Labs and to help prepare and position the company for investment. Now the IFEL Director of Capital Access, Seymour directs the innovative Making of Black Angels (MBA) initiative, a movement whose mission is to increase the number of Black angel investors. Osahon credits Melanie and the MBA initiative for helping her to start and develop a narrative for Aja Labs and for including the company in an MBA Entrepreneur Showcase, an event that connects founders to potential angel investors.
“I was introduced to powerful financial & social networks like Commune Angels and other individuals, groups of investors and investment organizations which I might never have crossed paths with. Melanie helped me to see the possibilities for the future and even more importantly, to prepare for those opportunities. She opened doors to influential networks, helped to facilitate introductions and was fully engaged in my journey as a founder.”
Successful outcomes tell the story. Aja Labs secured $20,000 through a strategic group of angels and investors including Overlap Holdings, Joshua Mailman Foundation,
Making of Black Angels & Commune Angels, Debut Capital, and generous individual contributions. The experience served as a catalyst for even greater success as Aja Labs scored big and recently procured venture capital in the amount of $2.5 million. The investment will power Aja Lab in the trajectory from development to commercialization of their first product, Nourie, biomaterial hair fibers made from plant material to be marketed and sold as hair extensions under the Nourie name.
Cultivating Connections & Changing Mindsets - Women of Color Connecting (WOCCON)
Stepping out of the lab and into the spotlight was a major shift for Osahon. Aja Labs was conceived and launched during the pandemic, a time when businesses were plagued by disruptions and crippled through a sense of isolation. Everything changed at the WOCCON Road Show in Houston as a whole new world opened up for Osahon in the summer of 2022. “This was my first time going to a networking event as a founder doing something where the objective was to make connections. Everything before was virtual, and this, my first foray, let me shake hands, let me make conversation, let me laugh, eat and be human again with others. I think it couldn’t have been a more perfect place and a more perfect environment for this phase of my journey.”
Osahon is continuing to forge new connections and to nurture prior connections made through Women of Color Connecting, a ground-breaking program which leverages social capital to open doors for women of color entrepreneurs.
“WOCCON is the springboard and provides a safe space with no judgment for founders to learn and connect, especially new founders like me who are beginning their journeys. I found people through WOCCON who are excited to spread the word about what Aja Labs is working on. We have a lot of big announcements coming up, so we want to get as many people talking and sharing with their networks and then having those new connections sharing. I think that will be worth more than money to us right now.”