Bella Ngo is the Co-founder and CEO of Brarista. She first immigrated from Vietnam to the UK as a teenager. Brarista is a deep tech and femtech business that makes professional bra fitting more accessible and accurate.
Where did the business idea come from?
Whilst doing my Master’s in Entrepreneurship at University College London (UCL) I was actually working as a professional bra fitter at a high street shop and that opened me up to the industry and how broken it is.
The industry is not providing accurate bra services. Most of the time women get fitted with a measuring tape and that method has been proven to be only 30 % accurate because it does not take into account breast shape, physical condition and fit reference. It doesn’t translate into accurate sizing for bras or other products. I wanted to create something that women were telling me that they wanted.
I really want to help the industry to do a better job and create happier customers. Our vision is for women to find out their bra size using their phone cameras. What’s also quite exciting is we’re leading to provide almost real-time analytics of how customers actually look in the breast area so that brands and retailers can make a better fit and get the product range more suited to their customers.
How has OneTech supported you?
I was referred to OneTech by my adviser at the European Enterprise Network. I was the team-building/MVP-research stage. We had a co-founding team, had the concept validated, and were very eager to accept that early investment and to build the MVP. We had workshops every week coaching us on different aspects of the business in order to get the message ready.
The funding adviser that we were matched with through OneTech Pioneer Programme was very, very hands-on and helpful. In every discussion we had, she was able to point us in very useful directions. She never shied away from being there for us and regularly checks in to see how we are, which is really incredible. Her support has resulted in real trust and a sense of mutual interest and engagement.
I am very grateful to OneTech and Capital Enterprise. They didn’t hesitate to make introductions to different organizations that I would have taken months to get in contact with cold.
What challenges have you faced?
There have been several challenges.
One of the things that I discovered as a founder especially during a fundraising journey is that you just have to be extremely resilient and not take anything personally. The OneTech advisors talked about fundraising rounds for other startups and it equipped me with that awareness. My product is female, bra related, a female problem to solve. If I’m pitching for an investment I need to know who is in the audience. If I am in a room with a majority of women, my pitch will be slightly different. Whereas if the majority is of males I have to adjust it as well. But I see that as a part of the job. It can be hard but I thrive in a challenge.
The main challenge has been around the expected timescales of funding a deep-tech startup that starts ours from scratch. There is an expectation from both mentors and potential investors, including within the Pioneer programme, to ‘prove the concept’ before seeking to raise funding – when in fact the product requires investment to undertake the R&D needed to prove the concept. This is why lots of deep tech startups are university spin-outs.
What is your experience as an immigrant women founder?
Starting a start-up in London, where I have nobody but myself, I quickly observed a pattern where successful founders tend to come from positions where their network determines greatly their chance of success in funding, partnerships acquisition, and PR. My head is filled with questions of whether the merits-based progression will happen for me in this country, as a founder.
I entered a number of business competitions and experienced challenges that may be attributed to (subtle) discrimination. I often tell myself to brush it off and not get caught up in the victim mentality because it will not get myself anywhere useful for the start-up.
Immigrant founders are a distinctive subset within minority founders in my opinion. We hold very unique challenges including our language, network and visa – to name a few. I would love to see more support like OneTech throughout the startup ecosystem when it comes to immigrant founders.
How is COVID 19 affecting your business?
With the lockdown, it means that we couldn’t really continue doing our in-person data collection, which is an important component of R&D. But it has pushed us to be flexible with our timeline. In a start-up, there are always lots to be done, so shuffling our task list has been rather fun.
Oh, but there has been something quite positive and we’ve been so grateful for it. Under the funding of InnovateUK COVID Response Call, Brairsta is working with our first client at Boost (wewearboost.com) to apply our technology to build a virtual fitting software for breast prosthesis. This way, breast cancer survivors (among the high risks group) can stay safely at home to get their breast prosthesis fitted, instead of travelling to clinic settings to have it done (e.g. hospitals).
At the same time, we also won the prestigious Enterprise Fellowship at the Royal Academy of Engineering. This means that we’re now a part of a hyper-dynamic group of innovators who are also pushing for their ideas to come to life – just like Brarista.
What are your plans for the future?
There are lots- but one thing for sure is whatever that we do, we want to make sure that women get access to the best professional bra-fitting tools and knowledge possible. If you’re interested in what we’re building and want to be a part of it, join our co-creators community at www.brarista.co or brarista.fitting on Instagram.
For the immediate months, we’re looking forward to continuing working on our prototype and kick start our pre-seed fundraising round.