The business evolution of Olamide Olowe, founder and CEO of skincare company Topicals, stands out among many on the venture capital scene. For one, she is on record as the youngest Black woman ever to raise $10 million on the fund market for a business.
Olowe achieved this remarkable feat in an unlikely environment. Black women entrepreneurs receive less than 1 percent of venture capital annually and fall into the lowest venture capital backed demographic. According to ProjectDiane, since it started tracking this phenomenon, only 93 Black women founders secured $1 million in funding before 2021. But never one to back down from a challenge, Olowe is making a claim for a spot in a market that is worth about $150 billion, and she is hoping to take it by storm.
Like so many startup founders, Olowe’s business concept grew from personal experience. She struggled with skin conditions such as acne, ingrown hairs, and boils and had to settle for products that didn’t really serve her skin’s needs. Even medical professionals didn’t have the answers and so Olowe turned to YouTube for solutions which also proved futile. Necessity birthed invention as these challenges spurred her into becoming a beauty entrepreneur.
“As a darker-skinned Black woman, when you go to the dermatologist, they don’t always have the right kind of medical training or background to treat skin of color. So I was always looking for information on the internet, and I grew up wanting to become a dermatologist because I had never seen brands, products, or people who understood my skin,” Olowe said about the inspiration behind Topicals.
She intended on becoming a dermatologist and studied pre-med at UCLA. Olowe co-founded beauty brand SheaGIRL, a subsidiary of SheaMoisture. while at college. When Unilever bought Shea Moisture as part of its Sundial Brands acquisition in 2017, Olowe decided to build her owned skincare brand. She leveraged her two years of experience into creating a brand for underserved consumers.
Raising capital proved to be a problem in the beginning. It took two years to convince investors that chronic skin conditions were a viable business. Olowe’s insightful and data driven pitches eventually prevailed, with Topicals launching with $2.6 million in seed funding. She became the youngest Black woman founder to raise more than $2 million in funding.
“It took me about two years and probably close to a hundred pitches to get funding. I figured out really quickly, at 23, when I first raised capital, how to be sure of myself and speak about my business in a way that no one could poke holes through. I go into every room. I know what I’m talking about,” Olowe said about her journey raising capital.
In 2021, Topicals launched at Sephora and sold out within 48 hours. It became the retailers fastest-growing skincare brand in 2022, selling one product per minute. Praise from customers and celebrities has since made raising funds easier. With $14.8 million raised before the age of 26, Olowe has become the youngest Black woman to raise $10 million in venture funding. Investors include prominent figures such as Jay-Z, Kelly Rowland, Gabrielle Union, Yvonne Orji, and Issa Rae.
As part of other initiatives that would boost the general well-being of her customer base, Olowe and Topicals are committing to mental health therapy. The brand is committed to supporting mental health drives, donating 1% of its profits to various mental health organizations.
She has also launched an online resource to help upcoming entrepreneurs launch projects.