Alumni stories: Rachael Twumasi-Corson on creating the UK's leading Afro hair care brand
Rachael Twumasi-Corson (MSc Medical Anthropology 2015), founder and CEO Afrocenchix, shares her career story, who inspires her and what advice she would give to young entrepreneurs.
12 November 2021
Afrocenchix is an award-winning start-up creating safe and effective products for afro and curly hair.
Rachael grew up using harsh chemicals to straighten and ‘tame’ their natural afro hair. As an adult, she became increasingly concerned about the growing body of evidence suggesting that these chemicals might cause harm over time, with potential links to cancers, respiratory problems and adverse skin conditions. She wondered if there might be a natural alternative to caring for afro hair that also celebrated, rather than subjugated, afro hairstyles.
With just £100 she bought some ingredients and started experimenting with natural formulations. She established Afrocenchix in 2010, selling products through word of mouth and to family and friends, while also researching the science and business of cosmetics.
To grow the business, Rachael entered the UCL Bright Ideas competition in 2015 (now Build your own business 3: Launch your business) and won. After winning the competition, the Afrocenchix community joined BaseKX, UCL’s entrepreneurship hub, and blossomed into a fully-fledged business. Afrocenchix has recently been backed by Google in a $1.2m Seed Round and named one of the "hottest Black-led startups in Europe.”
How did UCL help you advance your career?
UCL has helped me get to where I am today in a myriad of ways. From my master’s in Medical Anthropology, I acquired a huge number of soft skills that have proven to be invaluable, especially in this age of automation. I also honed my research skills; a lot of Afrocenchix’s research methodology was created while I was doing my MSc.
The financial support we received from winning the UCL Bright Ideas competition in 2015 was hugely helpful, enabling us to purchase raw materials, equipment and allowing the Afroncenchix idea to grow. When we joined BaseKX, we received dedicated office space and access to tailored support. The expert advice we received there ensured we knew our business inside out, preparing us for the difficult questions that were to come our way in pitches. We were also able to hire our first intern as part of a UCL and Santander internship scheme which was great.
UCL has a fantastic reputation. Receiving a distinction in my MSc from one of the world’s top universities definitely boosted my reputation and helped get Afrocenchix off the ground.
What essential life skill did you learn at UCL?
My time at UCL helped me develop a ruthless tenacity. My undergraduate degree was in Law which meant that the transition to doing an MSc in a different academic field (Medical Anthropology) brought some challenges. Alongside the support I received from my lecturers, I really had to do push myself to catch up with my peers and go the extra mile in my studies. The fact that I didn't give up, and ultimately managed to get a distinction, makes me really proud.
What moment in your career are you most proud of?
I am proud that I am a mum first, while still being a successful businesswoman. A lot of the time we are told we must choose between motherhood or a career. This is even more true when you are the founder of a start-up as you are told that your business is your baby! So, for me, the fact that I have been able to put my family first and achieve my business goals is something I really value. This is an example I also try to set to the rest of my team; I am always reminding them to take time off to spend time with family, friends and loved ones.
At Afrocenchix, I am proud of the work we have done around mental health. We have implemented a dedicated mental health policy, employee wellbeing days and offer a counselling service. Making sure our team feel comfortable talking about their mental health concerns and running a business that reflects the world as I want to see it is really important to me.
I also feel really proud of what we have achieved so far as a business and the number of people we have helped. Speaking to customers and hearing about the impact Afrocenchix products have had on their lives has been fantastic. For example, just last week I spoke at an event where so many parents told us that their kids finally like their natural hair. This really served as a reminder as to why Afrocenchix exists.
What would you tell your younger self?
Enjoy your life a bit more and worry less about your future as you are on the right track! While it is important to work hard, I wish I had given myself more of a chance to have fun. For example, I wish I had travelled a lot more and spent time with family overseas, particularly as you never know what the future has in store.
Who has influenced and inspired you?
There are so many! As a Christian, I am inspired by what I read in the Bible and the examples set particularly around leadership. The Bible describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth". This is something that motivates me daily: being honest with people but doing so with empathy and compassion.
I am also really inspired by Serena Williams. I love how hard she has worked to achieve her dreams and how she deals with any negativity that may come her way with such grace.
Bonnie St. John, American former Paralympian and author of ‘How Great Women Lead’, is another huge inspiration. From the Paralympics to the professional world, her commitment and resilience is amazing. She is proof that with hard work, you can achieve anything.
Where do you want Afrocenchix to be in five years’ time?
Our aim is to make sure that every person in the world with afro and curly hair has access to safe and effective products, whether that is through online means or through retail partnerships. To do that, we need to be global. Currently, more than 90% of our sales are in the UK but in five years’ time, we want to have established partnerships around the world.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Do your research and know your stuff so that you are always prepared. As the saying goes, “stay ready so you don't have to get ready”!
My message speaks to all entrepreneurs, but particularly Black female entrepreneurs who may face more barriers when trying to raise funds to grow their businesses. Keep going. Realise that you may have to work twice as hard as others. That is not to say you should just accept that possibility, but just be prepared to do so. I can’t wait to one day be in a position where I can be an angel investor and make it easier for entrepreneurs of colour.
Find out more about:
- Google for Startups
- UCL BaseKX
- UCL Innovation & Enterprise
- Build your own business 3: Develop your business
- UCL Medical Anthropology
- UCL Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences
- Afrocenchix receives $1.2 million in Google seed funding