Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University
Founding Student Name(s): Rumbidzai Mangwende
Brief Description of Solution: EthosSphere is America’s first ethnic beauty marketplace and retail center aimed at democratizing the ethnic beauty industry through increased accessibility.
What led you to launch this venture? EthosSphere was created as a solution to my lived experience. As a “carless” college student in Baltimore City, the nearest specialty beauty store was five blocks away. I had to walk through one of America’s most dangerous cities to find a hair salon. It was inconvenient, and when it became impossible; I tried to turn to Amazon.
However, Amazon was an uncomfortable and pricey place. My favorite micro brands weren’t available. When I realized I was not the only college student, or black woman with this problem: I began to cultivate EthosSphere.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? My greatest accomplishments are actually conversations. One time, I was dropping off an order at USPS, and an older woman behind me recognized the packaging. She said, “Oh! I LOVE them! I used to have to travel all around the city for my favorite shampoo, now I just get it from there! Are you returning something?”
There was also another instance when one marketplace vendor disclosed to me that she runs a jewelry brand with her 8-year-old daughter. The margins on Amazon were just impossible to profit from, and she almost had to close the entire operations. When a friend showed her EthosSphere, she was ecstatic that she could get her margins back, and she could show her daughter how to be a savvy entrepreneur.
For them, these conversations are just small talk. But to me, it shows me the result of my mission—making life easier for women like me. To hear the convenience, ease, and freedom brought to the life of those I serve directly because of EthosSphere reminds me of why I want to build this company. For me, success isn’t measured in dollars—it’s measured in impact. I see a glimpse of success in each of those moments, and they have been my greatest achievement since.
How has your business-related major helped you further this startup venture? The Dyson School has been an unparalleled resource: from providing non-dilutive grant funding, to teaching me business acumen, to connecting me with potential investors. The rich entrepreneurial and collaborative environment Dyson students create has made my progression from a woman with a good idea into an actual entrepreneur one of the most seamless that I can think of. I am surrounded by mental upliftment and physical resources; from friends and faculty alike. In my honest opinion, there is nowhere better to start a venture than at the Dyson School at Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.
Which business class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Corporate Finance has been the most valuable class in terms of building my start-up. Without this class, I would have no perspective on what EthosSphere’s 5-year plan would look like, how management should be structured, and how the relationship between my shareholders and I might look like. My biggest lesson is: It’s easy to lose sight of your mission when your capitalization table gets too diluted.
What business professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Felix Litvinsky. He is the entrepreneur-in-residence at Cornell and not exactly my professor; but every day he lets me bother him with what I think would be silly questions. He also gives me father-like tough love. It’s easy to get caught in the clouds, but Felix has made it his personal mission to keep me humble.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Madame C.J Walker. I was 5 years old and played her in an elementary school play. Mrs. Walker was the first self-made black millionaire–and her industry was haircare. How ironic! Back then, I didn’t know that I also was going to go into haircare; but I did know that I wanted to be successful and help provide positive representation for African American people through my work in corporate America.
I am also inspired by the story of Katherine Graham, the first female CEO of a fortune 500 company, The Washington Post. Though she inherited her father’s company from her husband (so much for a father’s love), it was still so inspiring to see how she led The Post through the Watergate scandal and the strength she had over the years.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? To become a multi-billion-dollar business.
I’m dealing with an unconsolidated, multi-billion-dollar market with no current major players –so my dreams are big.
EthosSphere’s goal is to change the ethnic beauty market from brick-and-mortar to click-and-order, and become the largest Ethnic beauty center in the world.