SAHI Cosmetics' win in the Oct. 11 Rise of the Rest competition in Ann Arbor, netting the company an investment of $100,000, is just the latest triumph for SAHI founder Shelly Sahi.
SAHI focuses on makeup products aimed at Arab, Latina, and Indian consumers with "medium" skin tones that may have yellow or olive undertones.
"Rise of the Rest is a very interesting competition, with the founder of America Online (AOL), Steve Case, investing in your company if you win," Sahi says. "Just that name alone, having someone so sought after in the technology and entrepreneurial world — it was an honor to be chosen as a semi-finalist."
Sahi's main concern was that Case is from a technology background, and she wasn't sure he would take her makeup company seriously.
"But Steve was really happy with my business idea," Sahi says. "He saw that it was scalable and profitable, and the judges thought I was a credible leader who could lead the company to success."
SAHI was one of eight local companies who pitched to Case at the Michigan Theater last week. The other competitors were SkySpecs, Pitstop, Genomenon, Inmatech, Warmilu, SurClean, and Civionics. The pitch competition capped a day in which Case toured Ann Arbor accompanied by local public figures including Michigan governor Rick Snyder, Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor, and Rock Ventures founder Dan Gilbert.
Sahi brainstormed the idea for her company while still an MBA student at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. She started working on the company full-time in December 2016, making SAHI one of the youngest companies to make the list of finalists in the Rise of the Rest competition.
SAHI has had several early successes. In February, Sahi won a $25,000 prize for best business in the Michigan Business Plan competition, plus an additional $2,000 for her outstanding presentation. In August she received a $100,000 investment from the Zell Founders Fund. She also got major exposure when Marie Claire published an article about her business this September.
When asked during the competition about how she handles struggles and hard decisions, Sahi shared that she had a chance to put her products on a website that sells products on discount.
"We could have made a lot of sales from that, but I knew that, ultimately, our strategy is to position SAHI as a luxury brand, so we couldn't have it discounted the first time somebody encountered our brand," Sahi says. "We could have made money in the short run, but it didn't fit our long-term strategy."
Sahi's plan for the new investment is to continue to build brand awareness.
"We need more people to find out about SAHI and try our products," she says. "I know they'll be satisfied and will come back for our newer products."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Shelly Sahi.