York grad lands major Dragon's Den deal with her innovative AI wig platform
York University Schulich alumna and LaunchYU Accelerator graduate, Akosua Asare, pitched her artificial intelligence (AI) powered wig-fitting platform on CBC’s Dragon’s Den earlier this month and landed a deal with Canadian investor, Manjit Minhas.
This self-driven entrepreneur captivated the Dragons, receiving a $150,000 business investment for 25 per cent of her company, Essence Luxe Couture; which features the first virtual wig try on. Using the power of AI, customers can use an app to try on a variety of wigs, which fit and look like their own hair, from the comfort of their own home.
The AI used to analyze user facial features, skin tone and facial structure was developed with the support of researchers at York University. The work is supported by a Smart Computing for Innovation (SOSCIP) project with the Department of Math and Statistics Associate Professor Michael Chen, a collaboration that was facilitated by Innovation York’s industry engagement unit. Backed by funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), SOSCIP’s Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) Accelerated Platforms were able to provide as much as 97 per cent accuracy on face shape classification.
The project provided York University students the opportunity to both apply and build their expertise and research, with far reaching implications for the Canadian technology industry.
“Our mathematics graduate students developed the AI solution for Akosua’s startup,” says Chen. “During development, students were able to gain essential experience developing an AI product with real-world application. Projects like this allow us to provide innovative AI solutions, while training AI talents, who are an essential driver of a thriving AI powered economy.”
Coupled with the support from York University research, Asare also received additional assistance from Innovation York’s LaunchYU Accelerator program, where she spent four months fine-tuning her business through hands-on workshops, one-on-one mentorship, investor office hours, and various networking resources.
“Throughout the program, Akosua was not afraid to ask for support and feedback, which is just one of the things that make her such a great founder. Seeing the development of her pitch and watching her land a deal on Dragon’s Den was such a proud moment. It really shows us how far she’s come as an entrepreneur,” said David Kwok, associate director of Entrepreneurship at Innovation York.
Before landing her deal, Asare was named the Schulich Startup Night People’s Champion for her pitch in the alumni category. Her drive and positive attitude continue to motivate entrepreneurs today.
"Akosua is such an inspiring member of our entrepreneurial community,” says Chris Carder, executive director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Schulich School of Business. “She always has a ‘can-do’ energy and commitment to giving her time to the next generation of student Founders and Innovators. We are all behind her in her journey – 100 per cent.”
Asare could not be more motivated to elevate her company given the potential it has. As she explains to the Dragons during her pitch, “the value of the application, it's limitless what it can be applied to.” The founder and mother of two is on her way to launching her business with the support of York University and the newest member of her team – Minhas.
You can watch Asare’s pitch on Dragons’ Den here.