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Two young entrepreneurs, both age 22, created a company that helps POC university students access beauty supplies tailored to them through on-campus vending machines.
Rico Ozuna-Harrison, a student at the University of Michigan (UMich), and Mia Wilson, a UMich alum, cofounded Innovending as a solution to the inaccessibility of self-care supplies for minority students at the school’s campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Black students make up less than 5% of the University of Michigan’s student population, according to Data USA, while 50% of students are white.
Before Innovending, students of color at the predominantly white institution had to make a costly trip to a nearby city in order to purchase the hair care and beauty products they needed.
“Sometimes, these students can feel displaced — as if they don’t belong in Ann Arbor. This feeling of displacement can result from not having beauty resources that cater to your culture (and ethnicity) at a predominately white institution,” Innovending’s website states. “They can feel as though they don’t belong here. Our vending machines will serve as an affirmation that they do belong here.”
The pair secured a 10,000 grant towards their business through optiMize, part of the university’s efforts to make the ideas of UMich students a reality. With the grant money, the cofounders bought self-care supplies and a vending machine to store the products in.
Innovending’s first vending machine resides in the basement of the Michigan Union on UMich’s Central Campus.
The vending machine carries a wide variety of products, including shea butter, hair glue, bonnets, durags, castor oil and much more. The entrepreneurs want to add more beauty products too, from edge control gel to hair extensions.
Ozuna-Harrison and Wilson plan to expand Innovending’s reach to other locations at UMich and to universities across the country. As for their individual futures, Ozuna-Harrison hopes to attend medical school after graduating UMich, and Wilson intends to keep up her law and business studies—according to Atlanta Black Star.
“A lot of alumni have been saying like, ‘I wish this was here when I was in college. We really needed this when I was in college,’” Wilson told WXYZ-TV Channel 7.