26 May 2021|Female Founder Spotlight, Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder
Bella Trang Ngo has recently won the Women in Innovation Award by Innovate UK for her work on Brarista. These are awarded to visionary female entrepreneurs in the UK to fire up the economy through innovation. Here she shares her entrepreneurship journey with us.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I am the founder and CEO of Brarista. As a masters graduate and trained professional eye-sight bra-fitter, I decided to set up Brarista to make a real difference to the lives of women and bra-wearers globally.
Entrepreneurship has run in my blood since a young age. I remember at 13 growing up in Vietnam, where the internet was still connected to your landline. I used to be incredibly obsessed with the world of e-commerce and secretly launched a tiny operation to satisfy my curiosity. The venture was short lived as in the following year, I moved to Cambridge on a scholarship to continue my education. Through years of extremely unrelated experiences (a ready-to-wear line, corporate finance, consultancy, event planning to name a few), I learned that my sweet spot is solving everyday problems with a twist.
During my masters in Entrepreneurship with a Retail Tech pathway, I discovered the art of professional bra-fitting and I suppose, the rest is history.
Brarista is a B2B2C computer-vision aided bra-fitting solution, democratising professional bra-fitting to help end the problem of ill-fitting bras. Around 80% of women and bra wearers wear bras that do not fit them, who will experience daily physical discomfort and poor self-confidence. Think of how many bra-wearers that experience pain on a daily basis? Brarista is here to make professional bra-fitting more accessible and accurate.
Brarista is still researching and developing its technology. Our beta launch is expected in the next year and we are working alongside our co-creators to build the most useful features that can solve popular bra-fitting issues.
In March, we received the Women in Innovation Award from Innovate UK. It was awarded to Brarista to combat data biases. The virtual fitting world lacks lots of reliable bra sizing data of real life women. And it’s quite sad to know that even in the world of data science, women’s bodies and female breast sizing is still not well represented or understood. Brarista is here to change that.
This is why we are collating data from 600 volunteers over the next 12 months to be able to reach this goal. The driving force behind the project, is to expand the diversity of our training data sets in hopes of proactively combatting data biases, which is a problem that you see a lot in the tech industry. They will be able to sign up via our website http://brarista.co/Co-creators (not live yet).
How did the idea come to you for the company?
I set out at first to create a clothing line for heavier chested women in professional environments. However, what kept coming up again and again in interviews was their bras and how that affected not only how their clothes fit but also caused pain.
It was so clear to me that without well-fitting bras, bra-wearers can feel extremely uncomfortable. Also, it was shocking to learn that 80% of women were wearing the wrong sized bra!
On top of this, the usual major high street stores, which offer bra-fitting services, usually use a tape measure method. This method is only proven to be 30% accurate in comparison to ‘eye-sight’ bra-fitters (professionally trained employees who are able to know your size just by eye-sight). Eye-sight bra fitters are much more expensive for retail stores, hence the lack thereof.
From learning all this, I decided to see for myself and work as a Bra-Fitter; so I trained and worked in Bravissimo as a professional eye-sight bra-fitter. I could see how great it would be if we could replicate a professional bra-fitter using technology.
Hence, Brarista was founded in 2019. The journey so far has been full of excitement, multiple challenges and even more growth personally & professionally. However, we have an incredibly passionate and dedicated team that inspires me every day.
How did you achieve awareness?
We were quite lucky in the sense that awareness of Brarista came so naturally. On the month we launched our landing page, we received calls from retailers! The pandemic has also increased the demand for Brarista. As in-store bra-fittings can’t take place, people are looking for an effective virtual replacement. What is also exciting is that people are appreciating the value of a virtual fitting, where you can fit it into your busy lifestyle.
What we are building is necessary for women & bra-wearers. So we have had lots of organic interest since the start of our Instagram account and we receive lots of emails from people around the world every week. We are very lucky that people want to talk about us and get involved in our process.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
In a nutshell; lots of applications and conversations. Putting myself and Brarista out there!
What are the key successes?
Key successes for Brarista has definitely been the recent Women in Innovation Award by Innovate UK. Despite the pandemic, 2020 was an incredible year for us. We were granted a Fellowship with the Royal Academy of Engineering, which has been invaluable in both mentoring and connection opportunities. Brarista represented UCL at the Santander University Challenge, being one of the finalists. Then finally Brarista was an Advanced Technologies Category Winner at the MSDUK Innovation Challenge.
While 2020 was a great year in terms of large awards, we do experience success everyday due to our wonderful technology team. They are tirelessly working to build something completely new and amazing.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
I think the biggest challenge any entrepreneur can face is the belief that you are the one for the job. It can be incredibly overwhelming initially to really back yourself, particularly if you are a female from an ethnic minority. That has been my main challenge for sure, which is why it’s so great I have a supportive network of women in my life and even within Brarista.
Being an entrepreneur is extremely exciting as there is a real possibility that you can make a wonderful impact in the world. In the end, I want to make the world a better, more equal place and I feel like I can do that being an entrepreneur and founding Brarista.
What are your plans now/for the future?
Now our focus is to actively combat data biases, with the support of funding from Innovate UK. The virtual fitting world lacks lots of reliable bra sizing data of real life women.
This is why we are expanding to thousands of training data points with the help of volunteers across the UK over the next 12 months to be able to reach this goal. The driving force behind the project, is to expand the diversity of our training data sets in hopes of proactively combatting data biases, which is a problem that you see a lot in the tech industry. Volunteers will be able to sign up via our website http://brarista.co/Co-creators (not live yet) or just ping us an email saying they would like to be involved [email protected]
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
I think it’s important to have grit and build a team of people who can help bring your ambition to life. Starting a start-up of any size can be draining and stressful so having that incredible team around you is key. It’s also important to keep up the stamina and a sense of optimism to get you through the hard days. Also, make sure you take the time to understand the problem you are trying to solve inside out!
Can you share your top 5-10 tips for entrepreneurial success?
Being an entrepreneur means constant learning, adapting and evolving. I’m certainly not where I want to be, so take these tips as the current version of me sharing – the future one might have a very different opinion.
Have a vision and challenge that vision, regularly. When you’re up for something truly innovative, you (or let say from my experience, I) face a lot of scepticism – especially during the early days. By questioning my own ideas, I felt more comfortable when getting challenged by others. It also provides you with more perspectives on how to design the product/process better.
Anything can be learned if you give it time. When I first came up with the Brarista concept, I genuinely had no idea how to do a normal fitting, let alone professional bra-fitting with eyesight. Not to mention, I was wearing the wrong bra sizes then too! I spent six months looking for a bra-fitting role, reaching out to fitters at a boutique that I trust and asking them to train me. The same with everything else in my process so far. I admit lots of mistakes have made, but the learnings have been far more useful. So don’t blame yourself if things are taking longer than you think they should. As long as you’re learning something for the company’s future, you’re doing it right.
Build a team that works. Make sure skill sets are complementary and their expectations are right. Don’t be afraid of questioning yourself whether the hires are the right one. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but not everyone is the right fit.
Get a grip of legal and knowledge accounting as early as you can.
Just do it and stay resilient. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Great things take time. Take a break when things get overwhelmed and talk to your advisors who can help reflect productively. Then make a decision and get back to your game.
Who are the five people who inspire you the most?
I think inspirations come in all forms and come from so many people, depending on what you’re looking for. But there’s one person that I want to shout out to, and that is Sam Jackman – the CEO of Boost innovations (WeWearBoost.com) – a Cornwall based Breast Form Company (top copy in her one liner). Sam is a true advocate for innovations, and entrepreneurship, especially female entrepreneurship. I learnt from her the true meaning of hard work, creative thinking and how to be a kind human being.
What is your favourite inspirational /motivational quote?
“One who knows all the answers has not been asked all the questions.” – Confucius
You can always learn more and you will never know everything – however you can try to learn as much as you can!
What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?
Brarista Social Handles
Bella Social Handle @bellatrangngo