'It's about growing a network and meeting with people'
Lisa Smyth talks to two businesses from Ulster Bank's Entrepreneurial Spark Hatchery on how their ideas have come to life
Einna Harrison-Mellon is using her own experience of hair extensions to build a business that will help some of the most impoverished women in the world.
The 39-year-old, who lives in south Belfast, set up SheBelle Hair - an ethical beauty brand of natural hair extensions, as well we an extensive range of eco-friendly haircare products - last February.
And while she is determined to build a successful business, with a projected £900,000 turnover by the end of year three, she also wants to help women on the other side of the world.
She said: "There were two reasons why I started the business.
"The first is that I have been buying hair extensions for a long time and every time I bought them there was no consistency in customer service.
"For example, one time I bought hair extensions that were really nice and then I ordered them again and they just weren't the best quality.
"You are spending hundreds of pounds - up to £700 - to buy the extensions, and once I bought hair that was really beautiful and when I washed them they were destroyed and I had lost £700.
"I wanted to set up a company that would address that.
"I did a lot of research into where to source the hair and found out it came from countries like Brazil, Peru, Russia, China and India.
"In India, the women cut their hair in April and May for prayer and that is natural hair that can be sold so I chose India.
"I also wanted it to be ethical so that a proportion of my profit will go back into the communities, it will go towards schools, hospitals and the infrastructure.
"I wanted to give back to the communities and I also wanted to empower women.
"I want the women in those communities to be able to go to school, to get a proper education because women are so important to the next generations.
"Often the women can't afford to go to college, as the men are more dominant, so if a family has to choose between sending a son or a daughter then they send the son.
"I want to empower those women, I want to help to change the way things are.
"I know I can't change the world overnight, this is something that has been happening for hundreds of years, but it is about breaking that cycle."
Einna also wants her customers to return their hair when they are finished with it so that it can be donated to a chosen cancer charity to make wigs for people fighting the disease.
Product development and research has played an important part in the company.
Einna ensured she travelled to India to build business relationships in person.
"I believe that you shouldn't do business without meeting the supplier," she said.
"If you have the money and your budget allows then you should make the effort to go and meet them.
"When I went to India I realised that the suppliers had the same values as me, that they wanted to help people from poor backgrounds as well."
Setting up SheBelle Hair is the first time that Einna has started a company, so she has concentrated efforts researching all aspects of the business, including marketing, packaging and ensuring the products are the highest quality possible.
"It might take six months to develop a product but that's all right if it is the best product," said Einna.
She has also drawn on the experience of established businesspeople and joined the Women in Business network.
"I talked to one of their speakers and she has become a mentor and when I have a problem I phone her," said Einna.
She has also been taking part in the Entrepreneurial Spark programme where she was introduced to another mentor.
She also paid tribute to her husband, Martin, who she said has been a huge source of support to her.
"He's my rock," she said.
"If he wasn't as supportive then I don't think that I would have got as far as I have without him."
Einna has also been working with Millie Kendall, one half of beauty brand Ruby and Millie, which she said has also helped her to meet key figures in the beauty industry.
"I was encouraged to go outside of Belfast when I was looking for a consultant to work with," she said.
"I wanted someone with a global presence.
"When I was looking for a consultant I emailed Millie and flew over to London to meet her and told her what I was trying to do.
"Her business partner is Anna-Marie Solowji from Vogue and between them they have 50 years' experience in the beauty industry.
"I really believe that business is about growing a network and meeting people."
At the same time, Einna said one of the most important skills she has developed is confidence in her own decisions.
"I do think you have to listen to people who are experts but you have to listen to yourself as well.
"I understand that the company isn't going to be a success overnight, it's not going to be easy," she said.
"I know it may take five or 10 years and I know it will take hard work, that I have to knock on a lot of doors.
"They're not always going to open but you don't just give up."