Improving the human experience and addressing sustainability: Trulaske alumna puts entrepreneurial spirit to work
Rebundle is driven by several Mizzou alumni and former students, including: (top row) Kalleah Clerkley; Danielle Washington, BS BA '18;
Curtis Taylor, Jr., BA '14, M Ed '16; May; Erica Smith, MA '20; and (bottom row) Eden Hoogveld and Alaina Curran.
Looking back on her younger days, Ciara Imani May, BS BA ’17, says she always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but didn’t know what it meant to be an entrepreneur until she got to Mizzou.
“I had a lot of side hustles, but I didn’t really know that those things made me an entrepreneur until I studied entrepreneurship,” she says. “I worked at a daycare when I was 11 just because I wanted to earn money, and then I started selling things to the people who worked at the daycare and to the parents.”
A first-generation college student, May was in her first year at Mizzou when she started learning about entrepreneurship and soon found that pitching her ideas to an audience wasn’t as easy as it looked. She decided to seek out other entrepreneurial students and immersed herself in the world of entrepreneurship.
“All this immersion opened my world up beyond just starting a small business or having a side hustle and towards being a true founder,” she explains.
And a true founder she is. May recently started Rebundle, a beauty brand revolutionizing synthetic hair extensions with more comfort and less waste, after reaching a point where she was “fed up with the experience” of wearing braids, she says.
“I have been wearing braids most of my life, like a lot of Black women, and thought that being uncomfortable and breaking out was just part of the experience. It wasn’t something that people inside of my community identified as a problem to be solved,” she says.
A Google search for answers as to why braids cause itching resulted in “a lot of videos showing people washing their hair with apple cider vinegar,” she explains, but no answers to her true question: why. “No one was thinking about it from a product perspective.”
May eventually discovered that typical hair extensions are made of plastic and decided she could do better from both the human experience and sustainability perspectives. “It was not doing the planet any good and it wasn’t doing my body any good. I knew I needed to solve both of those problems, and that’s where it started.”
Having put herself through college using scholarships, May was well-versed in storytelling and writing and decided to apply for a grant to explore her idea. She didn’t get the grant, but she pitched her idea at a competition and won. “That validation from winning basically made me think: ‘Well, people understand it, so let me continue to try.’”
May credits a lot of the knowledge she takes with her now to the classes she took at Mizzou and the experience of learning how to pitch with Greg Bier, who now serves as the executive director of entrepreneurship programs for the MU Office of Economic Development. She says completely freezing the first time she pitched an idea for a competition at Mizzou didn’t stop her from continuing to pitch her ideas. Instead it motivated her to practice a lot. Her practice has paid off: she recently won the crowd favorite at the UBS Venture Catalyst Awards and made the Charlotte Inno list of Startups to Watch in 2021.
After a whirlwind year – quitting her job to concentrate full-time on her business, constant pitching and fundraising -- May says she’s tired, but energized by her passion for solving problems to help others. “You can learn everything you need to know about what it means to be an entrepreneur, but the passion is what makes the difference and will drive you to continue.”
May looks forward to launching her products in in the coming months. While the last year hasn’t been easy, she says she’s never doubted her ability to be successful. “I know that I’m very entrepreneurial and it’s just in my nature to problem solve. I’ve been selling visions for a very long time,” she says.
For more information about Rebundle, visit rebundle.co.