We talk to Winnie Awa, STEM speaker and diversity & inclusivity campaigner.

18th Jan 2024

Winnie Awa, award winning tech entrepreneur and STEM speaker, chats with Jane Farnham, Director of Great British Speakers.

We hear from the incredibly passionate STEM speaker Winnie Awa about how she uses AI to find new markets in the haircare sector.

Winnie Awa, an acclaimed STEM speaker, is an award-winning tech entrepreneur who is revolutionizing the world of hair care. As the Founder & CEO of Carra, an AI-driven digital hair health platform, Winnie is disrupting the £90bn global haircare industry and driving inclusivity.

Winnie’s groundbreaking work has garnered recognition from prestigious media outlets such as the BBC, Sunday Times Style, Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, and Refinery 29. With her expertise and achievements, she has become a highly sought-after speaker for various corporate events, delivering insightful talks on Entrepreneurship, Women in Technology, Diversity, and Inclusive Haircare.

Experience firsthand the knowledge and inspiration that Winnie, the renowned STEM speaker, brings to the stage. Contact us today to secure Winnie’s services for your next event and empower your audience with her expertise.

Contact Great British Speakers today to book STEM speaker and diversity & inclusivity campaigner Winnie Awa for your next event.

Here’s the full transcript of STEM speaker Winnie Awa’s chat with Jane Farnham of Great British Speakers

00:00:00:14 – 00:00:06:36
Jane Farnham
Hello, I’m Jane Farnham from great British speakers and I’m here today chatting with the fabulous inspirational STEM speaker Winnie AWA.

00:00:06:36 – 00:00:11:38
Winnie Awa
Hi, Jane. It’s so wonderful to be here. Thanks for having me.

00:00:12:18 – 00:00:20:45
Jane Farnham
Yeah, and you’re here, but you’re actually out of the UK at the moment in some wonderful far land. And I saw this.

00:00:20:45 – 00:00:30:09
Winnie Awa
I am I think this is one of the benefits of the pandemic, which reminded us so that we can work from anywhere as long as there’s an Internet connection.

00:00:30:55 – 00:00:48:39
Jane Farnham
Exactly. Brilliant. So you first came to our attention when it because of your great award winning work in STEM. Now we’re going to be finding out more about that and also the fact that you don’t just talk about STEM because you talk about lots, but give us a little bit of a background on your life in the corporate world trying.

00:00:49:42 – 00:01:15:27
Winnie Awa
Absolutely. I mean, it’s probably useful to start from the fact that I am Nigerian born and I moved to the UK to study and I studied computing and business. And right after that I went into the corporate world. I was working as a technology consultant at Ssangyong AG and having lads, the roots there, working across multiple industries from finance through to retail.

00:01:15:38 – 00:01:50:04
Winnie Awa
I, I got my retail bug and from the young I moved on to Net-A-Porter much to the confusion of my Nigerian parents. They were expecting Jp morgan and at Goldman Sachs and other management consulting houses. And I remember my sister say do not say fashion to them, just see e-commerce. I refer them to Net-A-Porter. And in that essentially taken all my experiences with technology consultants to work with them as a strategic product strategist.

00:01:50:40 – 00:02:20:29
Winnie Awa
And that meant that my role was partnering with different departments to really deliver really exciting and game changing consumer technology platforms. After Net-A-Porter, I moved on to ASOS, where I did really more of that, but at a grander scale. For instance, that ethos we built the ethos of a machine learning platform that was personalized and to over 20 million active customers, it was actually there that I met my now co-founder, but we’ll get on to that in a minute.

00:02:21:14 – 00:02:43:31
Winnie Awa
After I also spent some time at LVMH. I really the thing that has brought my career together, certainly my corporate career together, is that beautiful intersection between consumer experience, data and digital. And I’m thinking about how you create new things that utilize technology to make our lives easier.

00:02:45:01 – 00:03:06:57
Jane Farnham
Wow, You’ve been there, done that, haven’t you? It sounds like your parents were a real driving force behind your. You say you were close to all of this innovation. So obviously you’re a great innovator, but how important is diversity in order to innovate? I mean, does it come into the whole process?

00:03:07:55 – 00:03:32:00
Winnie Awa
I absolutely think so. I mean, to even answer that, if we just think about what each of those things mean, you know, what is innovation? It’s the idea of bringing to market or creating something, perhaps a new idea, a new process, or even looking at an existing idea of putting a new lens on that. It’s all about newness.

00:03:32:00 – 00:04:06:43
Winnie Awa
It’s all about novelty, doing things in a way they’ve never been done before. And when you think about diversity, we’re really thinking about the idea that there are various people that exist in this world, right? People with different cultural backgrounds, people with different race nationalities, lifestyles, sexual orientation, they’re like as a universe, we all contain multitudes. And the way I really see innovation and diversity is diversity is an illumination path to innovation.

00:04:07:24 – 00:04:31:12
Winnie Awa
In order to really innovate, you have to take into consideration all of those different experiences to be able to come up with something new. So I think it’s actually it’s actually difficult to innovate if you’re not considering the differences that exists, because it’s only in considering those differences that you can really see things afresh and be like, Oh, we do things that way.

00:04:31:12 – 00:04:40:06
Winnie Awa
But actually for these group of customers over here, maybe we could be doing it in a completely different way to meet their needs. And for me, that’s that’s the way I look at it.

00:04:40:06 – 00:04:57:48
Jane Farnham
Fashion is a great way of looking at it. Now, you’ve kind of separated yourself from the corporate world slightly, but you’ve continued to practice what you preach when eight because you’ve obviously started your own startup. So tell us a little bit about that break from the corporate world and where you are now with your startup.

00:04:58:19 – 00:05:24:01
Winnie Awa
Of course, I mean, this actually leads on really nicely from the conversation we’re having around diversity and innovation. So within my career, I found that I was building really exciting platforms. But when it came to my beauty and my haircare as a woman of color, I always struggled. It was never straightforward. I couldn’t walk into a store in the high streets and be like, Yes, let’s go.

00:05:24:41 – 00:05:54:37
Winnie Awa
It just it just didn’t happen. And I really had this idea of bringing in my entire experience to an industry that really is in the Dark Ages. I needed to be dragged to the 21st century, and that’s essentially what we’re doing with Cora. Cora is an AI driven haircare personalization platform that is personalizing haircare based on individual hair textures to our consumers.

00:05:54:48 – 00:06:16:44
Winnie Awa
We do that by bringing together experts, data and machine learning to provide truly relevant haircare routines and product recommendations to our customers. And on the other side of that, we’ve got something called Cora Labs, which is our B2B platform really. In order to deliver what we do with Cora, we’ve had to build something that we call the textured hair care engine.

00:06:16:58 – 00:06:44:11
Winnie Awa
It’s an engine that encompasses now over 10 million data points of all things textured hair, which is which means that we’re essentially the richest, the most unique data set that exists in this market at the moment. And with that in mind, brands are now coming to us when they’re in the early stages of their new product development, and they say, Hey, we want to create a brand new product here, but it’s really important to us that it’s inclusive.

00:06:44:25 – 00:07:07:06
Winnie Awa
How can you help us? So the way I look at those two pieces of the puzzle, while we’re speaking to consumers, we’re really helping them break through the clutter in the industry. There’s so much trial and error that exists in this space. This market is worth a billion. This consumer spends nine times more, but there’s still such a huge gap between their concerns and the products that exist.

00:07:07:06 – 00:07:33:00
Winnie Awa
So we do that by supporting them through that process. And on the on the business and brand side, I have this vision of really fast forward and I call it fast forward in innovation within the textured hair market. We think, hey, if we can help consumers with discover in the right experience the right products, the right routines for them, we can actually also help brands make sure that they’re creating the right product in the first place that are culturally relevant.

00:07:33:14 – 00:07:36:07
Winnie Awa
So that’s essentially what we do well.

00:07:36:07 – 00:07:54:32
Jane Farnham
How can it not be a huge success? I can just feel the energy buzzing or popping out of the box and the drive to hear. So well done on that. That’s that’s brilliant and I’m sure it’ll be a huge success. But there’s also a sustainable element to what you’re doing, is that Absolutely.

00:07:54:32 – 00:08:16:41
Winnie Awa
I mean, when you look at the beauty industry, I think the number is something around 20,000 products that are created globally or something along those lines. And certainly when I then take my lens and I hone in on my customer today, detection at consumer, they’re spending nine times more than their counterparts on haircare. That’s a lot of products.

00:08:16:41 – 00:08:36:54
Winnie Awa
And that’s is not just because they just want to spend nine times. So that’s because they’re going through a hell of a lot of trial and error. Typically, when we speak to our community, I often ask them, Hey, how many products have you got on your shop? Over ten products. Like, you know, every woman has like a basket under their bed that’s got tons and tons of products on the shelf that is over for it.

00:08:37:04 – 00:09:09:59
Winnie Awa
And when I ask how much of that are you actually use? And that’s making a difference, your haircare, it’s typically around three products, which means that we end up with a lot of plastic that is being not really utilized. So that’s really where we see the sustainability element. We believe that if we can recommend people to something that is right for their hair texture, for their goals, for their concerns, then there is less of a chance that would be a and random plastic bottles because we’re trying things over and over again, trying to find the right fit.

00:09:10:53 – 00:09:27:54
Jane Farnham
And we seem to be addicted to product and plastic and we need to move away from it big time. So outside of business. Thanks. We talked about your corporate work in startup and you are highly engaged, of course, in initiatives outside of the workplace. So talk to me about those.

00:09:27:54 – 00:09:49:33
Winnie Awa
Of course. I mean, this is something that I’ve been doing right at the very start of my career. If I think back to when I was at IBM, at IBM, I did my industrial placement there and I remember then I would often go out to schools to speak to young girls and encourage them to consider careers in STEM, essentially.

00:09:49:46 – 00:10:11:47
Winnie Awa
And that really carried on through my career at Ethos. I helped initiates the women in tech sort of program that enabled us to have conversations around how we advance women in tech, knowing that there’s a very, very small percentage of them even coming into tech in the first place, but then retain in senior positions when they come into tech.

00:10:12:03 – 00:10:45:57
Winnie Awa
Now, as part of Innovate UK, we actually won the Women in Innovation Award last year with Innovate UK, and as part of that, I’m now a mentor to other young innovators or the female innovators, other innovators of color. To actually share my experience and ensure that I’m sharing the learnings that I’m getting through with my journey. Because there’s nothing better than being able to speak to someone who perhaps has done the thing that you’ve done before, and they can really be that sounding board for you.

00:10:46:04 – 00:11:16:57
Winnie Awa
And I’ve just started something recently. It was at International Women’s Day. I’m always concerned with how can we make these things more tangible? How can we make typically an International Women’s Day? We have women roundtable where our panels, we’re talking, but how do we really make a difference? So I have this thing where I’ve opened up my mentoring Fridays, open up my calendar on Fridays, and I just let people book people who are on the entrepreneur journeys to book time with me so that we can see what we can do to support essentially.

00:11:18:09 – 00:11:45:01
Jane Farnham
I love that that’s just open and put yourself out there, which I love. Literally put your money where your mouth is. I like it a lot. And so talk to me about your speaking, because obviously we’re talking sustainability, we’re talking startup, we’re talking business, we’re talking STEM. I mean, you know what’s not to love, but what do you love to talk about the most? Where can you really give people a key takeaway and help businesses with that? They’re stocked?

00:11:45:01 – 00:12:11:15
Winnie Awa
Absolutely. I, I love speaking about entrepreneurship because there’s so many angles and so many elements to that. I believe that entrepreneurship is one of the biggest personal development journeys that you could really go. And it throws up a mirror. You learn about your strengths, you learn about your weaknesses, and you learn about how to make something work despite the odds.

00:12:11:31 – 00:12:36:30
Winnie Awa
And I think that this is relevance not just for safe versus people who are backing those thoughts in their own businesses. It’s also relevant within companies. You know, today when I hire, I’m actually looking out for somebody who can be an entrepreneur within the role. We hear people talk about the terminology interoperate nerds, and it’s the idea of thinking as do your business even if you’re in a big company.

00:12:36:41 – 00:13:00:36
Winnie Awa
And for me, it’s really about flying that flag of what does it mean to be an entrepreneur and what does it mean to be an entrepreneur that is a woman, that is a black woman? And what are the learnings that we have there and how can that inspire others on their journey to really live full lives, whether that’s launching a business or they’re heading up a department within a within a big company.

00:13:02:09 – 00:13:12:39
Jane Farnham
Where the I absolutely adore you, your energy is just popping out of the screen. Thank you so much for chatting to us today. And tell us more about your speaking. It’s been an absolute delight getting to know you.

00:13:12:55 – 00:13:17:40
Winnie Awa
It’s been lovely speaking with you. Thank you for the time now.

00:13:17:40 – 00:13:38:09
Jane Farnham
You’re welcome. Now, if you’d like to book Winnie the inspirational and energetic Winnie to talk about entrepreneurship, sustainability, STEM, you name it, talk to me or Steve at greatbritishtalent.com on 01753439289 or you can email bookings@greatbritishtalent.com thank you so much.

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Winnie Awa, STEM speaker at Great British Speakers

Winnie Awa, STEM speaker at Great British Speakers

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