Cosmetics company wins best business at Michigan Business Challenge

A cosmetics company focused on Arab, Latina, and Indian consumers was named winner of the Michigan Business Challenge on Friday, Feb. 17, after a multi-round pitch competition.

Sponsored by the University of Michigan's (U-M) Zell Lurie Institute (ZLI), the Michigan Business Challenge gives U-M student teams the opportunity to win more than $85,000 in cash prizes and get feedback from business leaders. Challenge winner Sahi Cosmetics took home a $25,000 award for best business, plus an additional $2,000 for outstanding presentation.

Shelly Sahi brainstormed her business idea in December 2015 after consulting with a mentor at ZLI. She determined that there was no direct competitor for the market she was targeting – primarily Arab, Latina, and Indian women with medium skin tones.

"I've been a makeup artist my whole life, and I know that it's hard to find makeup for women with yellow and olive undertones to their skin," Sahi says.

She says she thinks her pitch stood out to the judges because of her enthusiasm and her attention to market research, which showed there was a gap to be filled.

"If it's something you truly believe in, something you really want to see come to fruition, that's what comes through in your pitch," Sahi says.

Sahi completed her MBA at U-M's Ross School of Business and currently runs her business out of U-M's Desai Accelerator. She worked at Ford before she started her MBA studies and initially thought she would return there after she graduated.

"I wasn't thinking of being an entrepreneur," she says. "It started as something on the side but turned into so much more."

After funding a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, she is now working at her cosmetics business 70 hours a week, with three interns working part-time under her.

Sahi says the prize money will help her develop an "aggressive" go-to-market strategy. Short-term plans include hosting pop-up markets in the Detroit metro area this year, with a five-year plan that includes opening a flagship store in Detroit.

In addition to the best business plan track, the Michigan Business Challenge also offers an "Impact Track" that supports teams with a social or environmental mission. The winner of the Impact Track was AIMTech, a startup that has developed an affordable, high-quality, low-tech pressure ventilator that requires no electrical power. The business' aim is to prevent deaths caused by respiratory illnesses in infants living in low-income countries.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor based in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo by Doug Coombe.
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