23-year old Jessica Leach was inspired by another woman in her family to found The Hair Bears, a business offering hairdressing services for children with autism and other additional needs. The business was born following her experiences of visiting hair salons with her aunt, who had learning and physical disabilities. She noticed that most hairdressers didn’t know how to act around her aunt, who found the experience very stressful. Jessica realised that there was a need for a business to offer hairdressing services specifically for these clients that would reduce the stress involved in getting a haircut, and ensure the experience was as comfortable as possible.
Jessica now runs the business with her mother, and the two of them have given up their full-time jobs to dedicate all of their time to the business - leading to sales quadrupling by the end of the 2016 financial year on the previous year.
Speaking about her experience as a woman in business, Jessica says: “I have been inspired by both the women in my family and friends of mine who have launched their own businesses. I feel lucky to be working so closely with my mum on a venture that is a family business in every sense.
“The training I received at the PJEA has been enormously helpful, and I’m blown away by the amazing feedback we get every day from our clients. It’s a really exciting time to be a woman in business.”
With the business growing rapidly, Jessica’s current focus is to drive awareness of the needs of her clients in local schools so that future generations of hair stylists are educated about working with special needs clients. She’s also working with salons in the local Birmingham area to train stylists to better cater to clients like hers, and eventually hopes to create a recognised standard that salons can use to communicate that they have been trained on working with autistic clients.
We recently profiled Jessica’s business in more detail here.
Sonya Kumar was a finalist in the PJEA National Entrepreneur Award in 2014. She discovered the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy when searching the Internet for ideas of what to do following school. Sonya knew she wanted to be her own boss, an entrepreneur who could make her own choices and take her own risks.
Whilst at the Academy she developed a business plan for Svadish, a catering company specialising in organic Indian cuisine and launched her own restaurant. Since leaving the Academy, Sonya has experienced some challenges that have allowed her to put the skills she learnt at the Academy to the test, particularly the loss of her restaurant following disagreements with her landlord. The experience has led her to focus squarely on her catering business, which now caters for 80 lunches every week day, and Sonya also runs a tiffin lunch and dinner service on the side.
Sonya says: “My advice to other young women looking to launch their own business is not to let gender or even age get in the way. It’s important not to doubt that you can achieve what you set your mind to – even if you suffer setbacks along the way.
“Every entrepreneur faces challenges, and the Academy has really armed me with the resilience, quick-thinking and knowledge to respond to the challenges my business has faced, and adapt it accordingly.”
Peter Jones CBE said: “Every year the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy helps to equip able young women with the skills they need to launch and run their own businesses.
“Sonya and Jessica are just two examples of the brilliant women who have come through the Academy and are strong role models for other young women who may be interested in entrepreneurship. I hope that the hard work, persistence and ingenuity that these young entrepreneurs demonstrate encourage more young women to set up their own businesses.”
As we celebrate the achievements of all of our female students and alumni on International Women’s Day, we wish Jessica and Sonya every success in the future!