EOT 345- Alyssa Space

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Jeanine Ikekhua 0:21
The views and opinions expressed during Eye on the Triangle do not represent WKNC or NC State student media. Your dial is currently tuned into Eye on the Triangle and WKNC 88.1 FM HD one, thanks for listening.

Today I'm joined with Alyssa Space, the CEO and founder of ForHer cosmetics. And also she owns a nonprofit called MySpaceLaboratories. And today we are going to discuss her business and her journey as an entrepreneur. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today, Miss Alyssa space.

Alyssa Space 0:57
Thank you for having me.

Jeanine Ikekhua 0:59
So my first question for you is I want you to talk to us about the inspiration behind ForHer cosmetics and also the inspiration for your nonprofit that you started.

Alyssa Space 1:12
Yes, so ForHer cosmetics is an all natural vegan and cruelty free cosmetic line. And it was really important for me to one not only bring a brand that was going to be transparent with its customers about the ingredients that were in our products, but also a brand that was inclusive to women of color, especially darker skinned women, because a lot of times in the beauty industry, we are not represented. Recently, of course, you know, there has been a shift because they've seen the demand. And when I say they I mean the beauty industry or standards. However, I created my line for those specific those two specific reasons. And then my nonprofit, my space laboratories is actually the non profit arm to for her cosmetics where we actually teach students, we focus on girls, but we teach both boys and girls about the chemistry behind the cosmetics that we create and for her cosmetics. So one is of course for profit or business and then our nonprofit is more so to push students to go into STEM and to show them the opportunities that are available there. And I really just want more girls to see that there are opportunities in STEM outside of like, the, of course, there's nothing wrong with them. But out of the typical like doctor nurse route, I wanted to show that there is creativity in science, there is like opportunity. And you can also create your own business out of STEM. So those are pretty much the reasons why I started and I just I really like to give back to my community. So.

Jeanine Ikekhua 2:46
You were talking about, um, the creative process of your business. And I wanted to know, do you like how actively involved are you with like constructing like the makeup, the actual products and like testing and things like that.

Alyssa Space 2:59
So I'm actually 100% involved, my business actually started on my mother's kitchen counter back in 2017. But I actually formulated all the products that I sell today. And I really like to be at the forefront of that because I'm able to control once, as I mentioned before, the ingredients that go into the product so that I can be more transparent, and understanding of how everything works together what, how it actually works on different skin tones, different skin types. So from essentially formulation to product fulfillment, I'm doing all of the steps but I am very hands on in our formulation process.

Jeanine Ikekhua 3:44
Um, you talked about being hands on and like being there for every single step of the process. I know that well, I don't know, but I've seen other people that starting a business is not an easy thing. Like, it is extremely hard to do. And I wanted to know prior to those months of you officially like launching the business, how many months of like planning like executing, like taking actions did it take for that business to actually start to like manifest?

Alyssa Space 4:11
Yes. So I graduated college in 2016 I started formulating actually a year later so in the summer of 2017 and I didn't launch until Mother's Day 2018 So that was a good eight months of just like prepping the formula, the first one which was the lipsticks that I wanted to release. And then within that first year of graduating before I started formulating I still was working on the business idea itself. Where did I want it to go? How did I want it to appear to people what did I want to portray as far as like characteristics or the emotions I wanted my business to cause with my customer. So I actually started a beauty blog back in 2017 as a start because I'm like okay, although I don't have any products right now. I know what I want to do at understand what I'm trying to accomplish. So I'm going to start with at least making my footprint on social media. And then with time, I was like, Okay, I just got to do this. So I started after, well, relying actually working in corporate to was- gave me some of the tools that I needed in order to create SOPs, which are statements of procedures, understanding how to run an FDA approved lab, after working for various companies, including like in the pharmaceutical realm, and the auto industry. So I needed those experiences in order to build my lab experience and what I know what I needed to do in order to accomplish this business goal. So it, I would say about a year and a half, but as far as like actual formulation a year, about eight months, almost a year.

Jeanine Ikekhua 5:51
So within that year, what was the hardest part of like starting your business?

Alyssa Space 5:57
Just doing it, like the research was there, like I've done research and development throughout college, and then I was doing it at work. But it was actually putting myself out there and realizing that I can't really care what people think in a sense, because people are like, Oh, she started her business, ooh, whatever. And I mean, now it's a craze, especially with the pandemic just happening last year that people are becoming more home entrepreneurs. But back when I started a few years ago, it wasn't like, like the norm for someone just straight out of college to start a business. So it was really hard to just like, get the support, even from like family and friends. finding resources for my business, because I was completely new to this. But yeah, I would definitely say just getting the support, and then getting started was probably the hardest thing.

Jeanine Ikekhua 6:52
Were there moments where you were trying to like gather the support and try to get things started where you were like ready to give up?

Alyssa Space 6:59
Um definitely. I think that as humans, we have, like our thresholds of where we can take essentially, even with college, like when I was in my major, and in my studies and chemistry, there were times I was like, I don't know if this is for me, like, I still got two years, I might need to just wrap it up. But though essentially there were times where I was just like, I don't know if this is- if I'm going, if I'm doing the right thing, if I'm taking the right direction. And honestly, with life in general, it's really just not just necessarily following your heart or doing what you think you're supposed to do. But just like really following your own intuition and what you want your life to look like and how you can make it that way. So I mean, it's still I wake up every day still sometimes, like, what should I do today? I typically sit down every week and plan and write in my planner, but it's still like with that freedom of being an entrepreneur, like you have to really like stick to schedules, you have to be disciplined. You have to exert like, well extend yourself, essentially. But yeah, I didn't want to veer off of the question.

Jeanine Ikekhua 8:07
No you're good. Yeah, so you talked about chemistry, because obviously like you do the chemical formations of making your, your beauty products. Why did you study chemistry, like what attracted you to chemistry?

Alyssa Space 8:23
Um, so actually, originally, when I first started college, I studied chemical engineering. And it was because my mom's like, you'll make more money in that field. And I was like, okay, whatever, listen into my mom. But then I realized chemistry is really what I wanted to do. I wanted to do wet lab, like I wanted to work at a bench and do actual experiments, versus working with flow rates and different chemical engineering terms. But I really liked analytical chemistry. I love testing. I love titration. I love different reactions, chemical reactions, and how just the, the art- for me chemistry is like art. So like, I really just, it's my soldering things like the colors, the smells, not that you're just supposed to be inhaling things. And just that experience in itself really was something that attracted me. And as a kid, I really like paid attention to Mae Jemison. So she was like the first black woman to space and then which is I know, super corny, but my last name is Space, so I was like, obsessed with her. And then I used to watch a little bunny shows like Dexter's Laboratory and things like that and I was like, this is cool. And these were like, my inspirations because I didn't have a doctor in my family. I didn't have a chemist in my family. So that definitely was a big major factor.

Jeanine Ikekhua 9:51
So I don't know anything about chemistry I took it during high school, never take it again and said I've never come back to that. But what I do know is that chemistry is is not a black female dominated career like, I've not heard of, I don't think I think you're the first black female chemist that I've ever met in my entire life. Like, I don't know that many. So I wanted to know, being a black woman and pursuing that type of career like, how has, has it made the process harder?

Alyssa Space 10:22
In theory, yes, just because like there is different, like, so from just like classism, and racism, it definitely plays a part in being a woman of color and STEM and then in particular, in chemistry. A lot of times I get the, when I say, Yeah, I'm a chemist super like, for real really like you mean, you in the lab making the jokes go on, and I'm like, No, I'm actually I formulate my own products. I've worked for different companies, as far as quality assurance goes in the chemistry department. And I know that it's difficult for us to get into these fields, because I'd had to take those steps, I've had to do it. And then when I've gotten into these spaces, I was one either, like, I guess, people just were expecting me to underperform, they just didn't give me the benefit of the doubt because of who they saw walking through the door. And not necessarily because I went through the same rigorous courses that they did to obtain my degree. So um, it definitely is like, a stigma for women of color going into these fields. And that's really too one of the big pushes behind our nonprofit because I know that if more of us occupy this space, then it will become more normalized. I mean, there's probably still will be issues with, oh, we don't know, we're just trying to fix, fix the quote or reach the quota, or affirmative action, Lord forbid, but I really know that there is a there's a gap. And even outside of just women of color in this space, women in general in this space, too. So it's, it's like a double negative for me, but I definitely have figured out ways to maneuver through that space, and then creating my own space so that I can create a safe space for more women like me to be able to explore.

Jeanine Ikekhua 12:19
Yeah, that's fantastic that you're creating your own space. I know another part of starting a business that I've heard from other people, obviously, like we talked about being a black woman, and like that's an extra barrier. But I also know like funding, cause you got to invest money to get money back. So I wanted to know, how did you get the funding for your business?

Alyssa Space 12:40
Yes. So in the very beginning, I definitely bootstrapped so I was working my full time job in corporate as a quality assurance chemist, and then I was using that money to invest back into my business. Um, at the time, I actually was able to live with my mother. So hey, almost basically free rent. I mean, I helped out with a few things. But being able to invest pretty much my entire paycheck into my business, versus living expenses, food and things of that nature. It allowed me to really, like dive into my business and take risks that most people probably wouldn't take if they were living on their own or had extra responsibilities. So shout out to mama Dukes, but that definitely helped. And but as I learn more about business and immerse myself in different business incubator programs, throughout Metro Detroit, I was able to join pitch competitions to join to gain financial support. I've gotten support through the SBA as far as like, grants and loans. And I didn't actually take out my first loan until this year, so I have literally been able to just grow with, like, donations, grants, and like, just the actual selling of our products. But um, there are definitely resources in areas I'm not particularly sure, everywhere, but I know in Detroit, we have a great beginner incubator programs for small businesses, and I was able to gain capital through those resources. Now, I will say that it is hard, because they're like, show us your financials. Show us this show us this and a lot of times people don't have that history or some type of strong financial background to even get a loan from a bank or to even apply for a grant because they don't know the steps. They don't know the processes. So it definitely is hard because it's not something that's taught in school. It's not something that's just put in your face. You have to look for these opportunities, you have to search for them and then you have to go hard when you find them because you're competing against other businesses that may be more developed or that may have more resources or access to just our network. Some people know people and that really in business is what gets the money knowing someone so that it has been a challenge, but I'm definitely learning and I'm still learning how to maneuver and just get Garner capital for my business.

Jeanine Ikekhua 15:13
You talked about getting that you just got your first loan, first of all, congratulations, because that is incredibly big deal. But what was the process like for you, like get that loan?

Alyssa Space 15:24
Um, well, this is what so this one actually is to the SBA. And it's been a long, lengthy process. But this is probably like this is so this loan is for $50,000 for my business. And it took essentially showing my income for my business and taxes for the past three years, two years. And then actually showing like that I have the, you know, the income necessary to pay this back over the next 30 years. So the process can be tedious because my very first like, so when I first started my business, I was able to get a credit line through my bank that I had my bank account through for my business, but the line was only for $3,000. And if you think about it, a lot of businesses get credit lines of $10,000, $100,000 or more. And women of color, actually, there's this statistic that we get about 0.006% of venture capitalists investments. And then when it comes to actual loans in like lines of credit it like it's less we literally get less than the average new business venture. So these things are like, there, it's real. Like, there's definitely some type of discrimination when it comes to this. But like, especially is how things assess risk.

Jeanine Ikekhua 17:01
So going back more to like the technical side of it. So now I feel like because you talked about like education literally fails to teach us so many things, so many like practical things. And one of them is like loans like, what is that? Because I know like they give you money. But like do you have to give it back? Is there like an interest? Like how does that work?

Alyssa Space 17:21
Yeah, so with loans, you are essentially taking out money from an institution, a bank, whatever that may be to fund like processes, inventory, payroll for your business, so that you can one, of course, continue to function, but also scale and grow. So you're taking up this loan, saying I am going to be able to one pay this back, because one I have projections that are going to show that I'm going to make more and above this amount that I am asking to lend and then two, your you're taking that that risk that the investment you're making is going to obviously give back there is also always interest involved. SBA typically has the lowest interest rate. But you can also go through your own personal business banks that you use, business accounts, but I would always recommend to try to get the free money first. And then even the free money isn't free because you still have to pay taxes on it. And then those are like the grants and the donations and things like that. But loans can, they can they you're gonna have to pay them back. So you have to be definitely have to be just diligent with them and understand that this isn't just like free money that you can just like, throw away. But there are programs where you can actually get some of your loans forgiven through the government. So through nonprofit work giving back to your community, payroll, a lot of things now with COVID a lot of loans are being forgiven because of the fact of the state that we were in and then you're offering businesses or jobs to visit different people within inner city or low income areas allow for loan forgiveness. So there are so many like nooks and crannies when it comes to loans and getting forgiven and trying to make the best out of it. But that will be a whole nother course.

Jeanine Ikekhua 19:21
Okay, my next question is so we've talked about like all the struggles and like the hard parts starting a business. Let's get to the fun stuff. So what was the easiest part and like the best part of starting your business?

Alyssa Space 19:34
Um, I think the best part was getting the feedback from the customers that actually use my products and loved it like I've gotten back so many like positive feedbacks, especially people who have suffered from like eczema, or just different skin conditions that relate to dryness because of the natural ingredients that we use in our products like shea butter, castor oil, hobo oil, etc. But um That reaction that I get from customers when they try a new color that they wouldn't necessarily go after, or that they wouldn't necessarily feel pretty in. And then they do is like something that literally warms my heart and, and then even with the students that I work with I really love how like girls are like, This is so fun. And I really liked this because that's really what I'm trying to do is spark that interest in them. Because like I said, when I was younger, I didn't have these opportunities to explore science like that I just kind of caught on to it from my environment, and things that I did see that related to it and took that with me. So that is probably one of the best experiences of my like businesses is my customer reaction, and then my students interactions. I think that the answers it right?

Jeanine Ikekhua 20:49
Yeah, definitely. If you could go back to your past and talk to your past self, what kind of advice would you give to them about starting this business?

Alyssa Space 21:02
Um, let's see, I definitely would recommend, like real I have a mentor, but just like taking that that leap. And that risk of trying to build a relationship with a business owner that was like where I wanted to be essentially, because I think mentorship is so undervalued at times. And it's like, super important. Like, really get myself out there. Because when I first started my business, I really was shy, I was scared, I never wanted to go on the mic and talk. And I'm like, There's no way my business is gonna grow if I don't do this. So I would definitely go back and tell my younger self like, hey, just go for it now. And grab it by the horns, because like, essentially, you are your biggest advertisement, and you are your biggest advocate. And I mean, I still did it, but I know that I could have gone harder. I could have talked to more people, but I probably was scared or didn't think I was worthy. So now now that I'm here, I definitely know that I was and what I'm capable of. So.

Jeanine Ikekhua 22:06
Yeah you definitely are worthy and capable. You've proved that time and time again through this conversation. Where do you see your business in the next like 10 years?

Alyssa Space 22:18
I know that is because I've always thought five years ahead, but Well, I guess so from the next five to 10 years, I really would like to impact over 20,000 more students with my chemistry and cosmetics program. And we've actually already reached like 10 or 12% of that goal. So that's pretty exciting. And I've done that just like with me and one of my employees. So now that we have a board, and we have an initiative, it's definitely going to be doable. I would like to gain over 1 million customers. And I would like to do that by getting into different big box retail stores. Right now we're in two small stores here in Ferndale, Michigan and in Detroit, Michigan. But I would really like to get into Macy's, Walmart, Target, like I can see my brand being a global brand that people stop in the airport and grab out of the box really quickly or the store. And not knowingly not even knowing sometimes, but just knowingly know, like, they would know that they're actually helping students to learn because 5% of our actual gross sales goes to our nonprofit too every year. So that's where I could see the brand going having amazing even more amazing employees, brand ambassadors and just celebrities putting on board for cosmetic. So

Jeanine Ikekhua 23:33
Yeah, that sounds exciting. I will definitely link your business in the bio because we going to support you. You're going to succeed. It's gonna happen I'm manifesting it. Um, so earlier, we talked about some advice that you would give yourself, I wanted to know if there's any advice that you want to give to young black students at NC State who are thinking of becoming enterpreneurs or starting their own business?

Alyssa Space 24:00
Yes. And this is like this is literally my favorite question because I feel like a lot of times people struggle with trying to figure out what they want to go into. And I think there's a good balance between doing something that you love and doing something that you know is going to make money so like for me, I knew the trajectory and the idea behind cosmetics I knew it was a growing industry a billion dollar industry. And so that was a part of it of course, but I also knew that I really loved to make people feel good. So that love for both cosmetics and that okay, I can I found something that I can do that will help people feel better about themselves. They intertwine and created something that I didn't even know was going to get this big. So my advice basically to up and coming entrepreneurs is figure out something that you love to do and figure out how to monetize it. So for me with my nonprofit, although to nonprofit now, in the very beginning the chemistry and cosmetic programs that I was going around doing at organizations, people paid me for them, I was like, Hey, I have this awesome program, I can teach your kids how to make this blase blase. And then I would route that money back into my business. So now that my business is essentially self sufficient, I'm able to now produce this program for free, I'm able to get grants such as push it through the city to underserved students, and lower income areas. But I think that entrepreneurs that are up and coming entrepreneurs should really pick something that they love, because when you do something that you love every day, it will love you back. And then too when that that like passion will not even passion, but the desire or the drive dies down, because sometimes it does, like I said, we are human, and we have our thresholds. But when that dies down, that love still will be there. Like you'll still love what you do, even if sometimes you can't get up one day to do it, or you can't show up at 100%. So you'll always return back to that. So that's what my advice would be like, definitely do something that pulls on your heartstrings and not just something that's just like, Oh, I'm gonna do this because it makes this much money. This is what you know, because eventually, trends change. So money goes up and down. So that would be my advice to my fellow entrepreneurs.

Jeanine Ikekhua 26:26
Thank you so much for that advice. It has been a great pleasure interviewing you and you've done a fantastic job answer my questions, so thank you.

Alyssa Space 26:33
No problem. Thank you.

Jeanine Ikekhua 26:35
Music in this episode has been North Oakland Ecstasy by SquatterB licensed under the YouTube Audio Library. This has been Jeanine Ikekhua for WKNC Radio. Thank you for listening to today's episode. You can listen to more episodes at wknc.org/podcasts and you can also tune in every Sunday at 6pm to hear new episodes from Eye on the Triangle.

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EOT 345- Alyssa Space
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