Students Advocating Gender Equity (SAGE) welcomed Unique Hodge ’18 back to campus this week. Now at Harvard University, Hodge co-founded Oak Systems
while simultaneously working on her undergraduate degree. “Winsor taught me that I can do what I put my mind to,” says Hodge. “Winsor instills that belief in yourself, and that’s crucial to starting a company.”
Oak Systems uses an algorithm to give personalized hair product recommendations to Black women. Customers take an in-depth hair assessment which reveals key haircare factors. The online consultation goes a step further by suggesting three Black-owned beauty products for your specific hair care needs. Recently, Oak Systems dropped a Google Chrome extension
. As you shop, the extension checks if a product is Black-owned and compatible with your hair.
Ellie Wang ’21 wanted to know some of the nitty gritty details to launching a business. Hodge provided a laundry list. “Doing customer research. Sending out surveys. Finding out what their problem is, how the customer feels about that problem, and ways to actually help them.”
Hodge encouraged students to lean into new experiences in college and invest themselves into learning about the things they love. “Try a bunch of things. Throw your hat in a bunch of different places and you’ll find something that sticks.” It was a business club that led her to the Harvard Innovation Labs Venture Program, and eventually, to Oak Systems.
Abby Nickerson ’21 wanted to know what challenges Hodge faced. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the technical aspects. “Getting people outside the natural hair space to understand what you’re doing” is hard, said Hodge. “At the earliest stages, you have to be really creative about getting people to believe in you.”
Social media also poses its own challenges. For natural hair, influencers are a big part of the market and Oak Systems is running on a tiny budget. “I don’t really use Facebook, you probably don’t use Facebook, but Facebook groups are a great way to target people,” said Hodge. Cautioning, “You have to interact really genuinely with people in those groups, building one-on-one connections and helping people solve their problems.”
In closing, Hodge said, “You’re in the same boat as everyone else. It’s important to remember that. No one knows what they’re doing. Just jump in and learn along the way. You’ll be fine.”