Student Profiles

Startup Profile: EthosSphere

This Blackstone LaunchPad Fellow is making beauty accessible to all, one head at a time.

With the recent explosion in ecommerce shopping, many feel like any product they want is just a few clicks away. But this isn’t always the case…especially in the beauty industry. Take Black women looking for specialized hair care products. These consumers often find themselves going to great lengths to find the supplies they need to take care of their hair.

Summer 2021 Blackstone LaunchPad Fellow Rumbidzai Mangwende knows this struggle well. A student at Cornell University, Mangwende spent her first few months on campus walking long distances in search of a store carrying the haircare products she needed. Hoping to eliminate the hassle of these trips, she searched for products online, only to discover that many products for her hair type weren’t available through major retailers like Amazon, would only ship in large bulk quantities, or were marketed and sold using biased and insensitive language.

Mangwende decided it was time to solve this problem. And that’s exactly what she did by launching EthosSphere, an online beauty store geared toward people of color. EthosSphere carries hard to find products from multiple brands and ships directly to customers. No more bulk orders, insensitive language, or long trips through multiple neighborhoods. Just quality products at honest prices.

As Mangwende explains, “It’s a community space where anybody with textured hair or anybody who’s been a little bit marginalized in the haircare industry can find all of their needs.”

Launching the store her freshman year at Cornell, Mangwende worked hard to curate and cultivate relationships with vendors who also believed in her vision. This belief in the vision extends to the EthosSphere customer base as well, who are responsible for much of the company’s marketing via organic Instagram testimonials showcasing the wide variety of products carried on the site.

Mangwende attributes EthosSphere’s early success to lessons she learned from her earlier business ventures. The first business she started was with her brother cutting lawns for clients in her Baltimore neighborhood, Randallstown. “That was kind of my first experience with entrepreneurship knowing the cost of goods sold and then knowing your profit margins,” she says. “I didn’t call it that at the time I just knew I had to pay for gas, or I had to pay back the cost of the lawn mower, and then everything else beyond that I kept as my own.”

In high school Mangwende started a hair extension line called Authentically Yours but decided to move on when inventory became too expensive to remain a viable business.

As part of this summer’s Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship, Mangwende has access to hands-on learning via a variety of workshops on topics including leadership, validation, product-market fit, marketing, fundraising, and pitching. These in-depth workshops were designed in coordination with Future Founders to help student founders recognize opportunities to build, pivot, and grow their ventures. Like all Blackstone LaunchPad programming, the Fellowship is centered around helping students from all backgrounds and starting points succeed in their current venture or career of their choosing.

“This program has already given so much to me. I’m hoping to connect with like-minded peers and get an accountability network going because the hard thing about starting a business on your own is that you’re the only person who you answer to. When you have a community of people who are also on their own, you can be each other’s accountability partner just to make sure you stay on track,” says Mangwende.

Mangwende created EthosSphere at a time when the haircare needs of people of color are just starting to be addressed on a larger scale. She thinks the market will soon be saturated by new Black-owned brands and other retailers looking to capitalize on the growing market size. In the future, she hopes to develop an app to go along with her webstore to make the user experience easier and to integrate a social aspect to her brand. Customers would not only be able to purchase products but also find content created by EthosSphere. In fact, her vision is already taking shape through her monthly deep dives on her blog, where topics from alopecia, hair porosity, and dandruff are all explored. In addition to the content, Mangwende also hopes to start an in-house skincare brand as the business begins to scale.

Mangwende’s advice to young minority entrepreneurs looking to start a business remains true to her own entrepreneurial style. “I personally would say, no matter how saturated the market is, no matter how many people you see do it or how many stores have the same idea as you, just go for it. Because if you don’t do it, someone else will!”