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University of Michigan Students Opens Vending Machine Business for Black Students In Need of Hair and Beauty Supplies

Two University of Michigan students created a solution to a problem plaguing many Black and brown college students attending predominantly white colleges and universities by providing haircare and beauty products made for textured hair and darker skin tones readily available on campus.

Mia Wilson, 22, and her business partner, Rico Ozuna-Harrison, 22, are co-founders of Innovending. Wilson is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan while Ozuna-Harrison is a year away from graduation. The university in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about 40 miles west of Detroit was roughly 6 percent Hispanic or Latino, 5 percent Black of 2019 data.

Wilson and Ozuna-Harrison says it took them a couple of years to bring their vending machine to reality, but the racial reckoning of 2020 and the pandemic lockdowns helped fuel their idea.

“During COVID when we were all quarantined in our homes and couldn’t do anything the only stores that were open were essential stores, gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, and the beauty supplies were not open,” Wilson said.

The two took advantage of the university’s Optimize grant, a program that helps students tap into their entrepreneurial spirit by offering mentorship on projects including starting a business.

“You talk to different people, and they critique your work, and then you pitch again and again, and you pitch to different groups and different people and it’s a ton of work but the people who stay along and continue to develop their idea get the money in the end,” Ozuna-Harrison said of the Optimize program.

Wilson and Ozuna-Harrison received a $10,000 grant from Optimize and they used the money to address the hair care needs of Black and brown students on campus. They purchased the vending machine, hair and beauty products with the money last fall, and garnered support from the school to house the machine in one of the most popular spots on campus, the Michigan Union building.

Wilson and Ozuna-Harrison purchase products from wholesalers that sell the best. “We have bonnets, durag, we have hair glue, eye lashes, Shea butter, wave grease, castor oil, we have wig caps, stocking caps,” they said, with plans to purchase more products including hair extensions, wigs, edge control gel and more.

Ozuna-Harrison says they have not tallied a total to see how much money they’ve earned in sales just yet, but they believe in just under a month, they’ve already made up about a fourth of the startup costs due to the high traffic the machine receives.

While maintaining their Innovending business, Wilson plans to continue her studies in business and law school, while Ozuna-Harrison plans to enter medical school once finished at the University of Michigan. They also intend to seek out more business grants so they can buy more vending machines and expand their business.

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