We often read about businesses who have successfully raised investment, but we forget about the journey it takes to get there. How many founders have struggled to secure the equity or funding they need to take a product or idea to market?

This is where solo entrepreneur and inventor of the Nyfasi deluxe detangler Dr Youmna Mouhamad from Neath finds herself. She has created, what looks on the face of it, a fantastically compelling product - an innovative comb patented to easily detangle and condition natural afro hair making it less painful for black women.

But, like many business founders, inventing a product or service is only one side of the ledger. How do you convince investors to back you?

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Since launching in 2017, the young entrepreneur and research engineer has been trying to raise £150,000 via a private equity investor to manufacture her product in Wales so she can begin selling it to market.

But the move from start-up to commercialisation has been difficult, with little support for businesses which have completed research and development, says Youmna.

"The expectation is to prove your market before raising investment. Lots of investment funds are reluctant to invest in pre-revenue businesses in the consumer goods sector. When you have a physical product, you’re told to go to market and come back when you’ve sold," she says.

Those that have made offers of investment have taken really tough terms requiring Youmna to give between 40% and 80% of the business.

“That is too much to give at an early stage, especially with how much has been achieved. I’m not just coming with an idea, I’ve got a final product with a patent and women are pre-ordering it because they want it. I’m coming with all of that in the business,” she says.

Although her struggle to get investment isn’t specific to her as a black person, Youmna does point out a lack of gender and racial diversity amongst investors.

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More widely, there is a shortfall in the amount of interest to take an equity stake in women-led enterprises and consumables as the majority of venture capitalists are male.

The Gender Index, a study of UK female entrepreneurship, found that companies led by women disproportionately attract less investment than those led by men, with only 17% of female-led firms attracting less than 12% of 1.3m UK investments.

Coupled with fewer people of colour within the ecosystem of investment, she says, there is little understanding about the potential for her product and its value to the black hair care market.

“Unless you understand how big the market is and what this product could become, you’re not going to invest. Venture capitalists invest in what they understand and relate to. If they don’t have textured hair, or have a family member or friend with textured hair, how are they going to see the value in this product?”

The Nyfasi deluxe detangler
The Nyfasi deluxe detangler

While she has an IP for the comb, like many early stage inventors, she’s conscious that if somebody developed a similar design, even though it might be in breach, the cost of challenging it might be too prohibitive.

At the moment there doesn’t seem to be another product like it on the market, and Youmna insists it isn't a "Tangle Teezer but for textured hair" as some VCs have called it.

"The novelty of the comb is that it can be filled with conditioner which is distributed into the hair, lubricating and detangling at the same time making the process of combing less painful," she says.

While it is aimed at a very specific audience she adds, the global market potential is huge.

“This comb is developed for different varieties of textured hair including curly, coily and kinky hair. The amount of people around the world who fall into that category is huge. In Brazil, there are 15 million Afro-Brazilian people and 21 million black women in the United States. And I’m not even speaking about the black men that actually choose to have long hair,” she says.

In recent years, brands Fenty Beauty have demonstrated the market value of inclusivity and the huge spending power that women of colour have. The billion dollar company, owned by singer Rihanna, disrupted the beauty industry with its incredibly diverse range of make up products to cater to all skin tones.

For Youmna, it was the lack of products on the market that helped relieve the pain of brushing and detangling textured black hair which motivated her to invent the comb.

She first had the idea in 2014 while working as an au pair. The little girl she looked after would cry in pain when her hair was conditioned and detangled after washing.

“Hazel went from this bubbly, energetic little girl to in tears literally every morning when her mother did her hair,” says Youmna, recalling her own memories of her mother using a mixture of water and oil to detangle her and her sisters’ hair while growing up in Mayotte.

“There is a lack of cultural awareness about how black women in general do their hair. Detangling can be very painful and for so long big brands have not looked to innovate for textured hair. I realised I wanted to change the hair care experience for black women and that’s where it started."

A women combs her hair with the Nyfasi deluxe detangler
The patented comb can be filled with conditioner which is distributed into the hair, making the detangling process less painful for black women

The comb is already loved by the 50 black women who tried the prototype (and some white women with thicker matted hair) with many calling it “revolutionary”, and has had a ringing endorsement from Felicia Leatherwood, Hollywood hairdresser to Viola Davis, Will Smith, Issa Rae and Ava Duvernay.

“I understand the market, I understand the women’s need for the product, and I understand the need to end black hair care being associated with pain. That’s where the brand is coming from, because hair care should be fun for black women,” says Youmna.

“If I could get the right investor. Somebody who has experience in retail and understands how to build a brand, because Nyfasi is not just a one product business. The brand could expand with additional shampoos, conditioners and oils.

“I know deep down in my guts that this is just a matter of people getting the product into their hands and loving it.”

Youmna continues to fight on to raise her investment target, driven by a self-belief in herself and her invention to succeed.

She is now planning to pitch her idea to Wales’ largest business angel network, Angels Invest Wales, while also looking at support available to start-ups in countries such as France and the USA.

She is also running a pre-order campaign to counterbalance the investment challenges she's facing and filing for an international patent for her product.

“The business needs an angel investor that understands the market I am targeting and sees the value and novelty of the comb, someone who can join me and take it to where it can go."

Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, founder of the Wales Fast Growth 50 who acted as Youmna’s mentor, said: "It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Youmna on her new business and I have seen her work tirelessly to get the business to where it is today. She has developed an award-winning product, has created an incredible pre-sales campaign with the world leading firm Brand Advance, and has worked tirelessly to market the business not only here in the UK but across Europe.

"It should be a no-brainer that Nyfasi should be exactly the type of business that should be attracting investment given it has a patent protected product with global potential in a fast growing market. And yet, like many other female-founded businesses, Youmna has struggled to get access to funding she needs to take her business to the next stage. I can only hope that business angels here in Wales, as well as the Development Bank of Wales, will beat a path to her door and give her the support she deserves to make a real difference with her incredible product.”

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