For Emad Al-Khaja, techpreneurship is something that can go to your head – in the best, and most literal, way.
V For Vanity, the startup he founded and which is currently being incubated at Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), aims to tackle an issue that fills every man with dread – hair loss – by combining science, technology, and cosmetics.
Intended to capitalize on the ‘cosmeceutical’ market, it is a premium haircare line – from shampoos to styling products – devised through Emad’s identification of a gap in the market, namely the lack of such brands specifically formulated for men with hair loss problems. It’s this unique selling-point which sparks his belief that V For Vanity can lock into an unmet global demand.
“My personal experience of the hair loss issue led me to look at the market, what was available, and what was required, and then to learn about the ingredients of haircare products, the way they are combined, and the science and technology behind them,” explains Emad, V For Vanity’s CEO, who is also CEO of INJAZ Qatar, a nonprofit organization that equips young people to succeed in the global workforce.
“Although I don’t have a background in pharmaceuticals and biochemistry, it’s always held an interest for me. I would give people advice on which products to use, and about 10 years ago I started to develop the idea that would become V For Vanity.”
Having studied economics and finance at the New York Institute of Technology and received a Master’s degree in international marketing from Paris School of Business, before amassing experience through working in various marketing sectors, Emad had the business credentials and the kernel of an innovation. But he admits it took him some time to make the leap into techpreneurship.
“One day, I just woke up and thought ‘What am I doing? Why don’t I just do my own thing?’. I knew I had enough knowledge and, in my role at INJAZ Qatar, I found myself being really influenced and inspired by the young people enrolling in its entrepreneurship programs. I was learning as much from them as they were from us, and that drove me even further towards following my own path.”
That path was based on what Emad saw as a “clear gap in the market that required something new and innovative”, and a potential competitive advantage for his idea. “There are no grooming brands catering specifically for men’s hair loss,” he explains. “Most products are unisex, but the problem, and how to address it, is completely different for men than it is for women.
“What V For Vanity does is apply science and technology to a common problem for me. Technology, as a term, is very broad; it’s not all about ICT. It can be interpreted and applied in many ways. Creating an innovative formula, as V For Vanity has, is pure science and technology.”
Emad was subsequently accepted onto QSTP’s XLR8 program “where I learned about how to transform an idea into a business, and met great people”. It allowed him to build his bank of knowledge and insight, while also making the connections necessary for commercialization. And even when the program ended, QSTP’s support continued.
“Being incubated at QSTP, as a young startup, makes you part of a wider entrepreneurship dialogue, network, and culture,” he says. “The environment helps you massively – you get to meet people from different backgrounds, whose areas and experiences are so diverse, but who all essentially have the same goal. You become part of a QSTP family. And it opens doors; it gives you credibility and connects you with so many people that you really need to connect with if your startup is to succeed.”
As he takes V For Vanity forward, Emad has also been supported by Qatar Foundation member Hamad Bin Khalifa University, affording him access to dermatologists and biochemists, and is now working with a manufacturing laboratory on testing and formula development while also pursuing investment. He’s under no illusions about the challenges to come – describing cosmeceuticals as “a red ocean market” – but says: “I’m well-positioned, because while I have direct competitors, I also have an advantage over them.”
“Ultimately, I’d like to see V For Vanity products being sold globally. I’ve begun by concentrating on the local and regional market, and that’s where my focus is right now. But at the same time, you always have to keep an eye on the bigger picture.
“It’s a challenge, but I can always tell myself that I have already passed the biggest hurdle: by having that moment when I woke up and decided I wanted to do something, and then by doing it.”
TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR, YOU NEED TO…
Emad Al-Khaja says: “Take the leap out of your comfort zone. There’s always an excuse to decide not to do something…but once you get past that, it’s a domino effect. Everything else falls into place.”
To discover more about V For Vanity, visit www.vforvanity.men