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Kameese Davis delivering her pitch on BBC's Dragons' Den 

After failing to find a gentle product suitable for her daughter’s afro-textured hair, Kameese Davis decided to develop her own. She juggled being a mum and part-time work to establish the Nylah’s Natural brand and was on the verge of signing a deal with a major retailer when the pandemic struck. In desperate need for funding to keep her entrepreneurial vision on track for her and her children, she decided to apply to BBC Dragons’ Den, where her passion, drive and determination were recognised. Here, Kameese shares her business journey so far.

“You can do this” - were the words of encouragement Kameese Davis spoke to herself as she made her way to meet the Dragons in the latest series of BBC Dragons’ Den.

Alongside raising two young children, Kameese has spent the past three years working tirelessly to build a brand she believed could transform the beauty market.

As a Black female entrepreneur, Kameese was aware of the barriers she faced, but wanted to prove she could succeed.

Kameese never aspired to be an entrepreneur. Working in employability, her plan was always to climb the corporate ladder, but this all changed when her daughter Nylah was born.

Nylah suffered from eczema, and Kameese was determined to find a product that not only be suitable for her daughter’s sensitive skin, but also compliment the natural beauty of her afro-textured hair.

She searched for a high-performance product made from natural ingredients, but found the marketplace saturated with products containing harsh chemicals, intended to alter the natural kink of afro-textured hair.

“I was so passionate about her having a product that was healthy, effective and easily accessible. That was what drove me down the road of entrepreneurship,” Kameese explains.

In 2018, the mother-of-two founded her own haircare brand, and named it after her daughter, Nylah.

Attaching her daughter’s name to the brand served as a huge driving factor for Kameese, who as well as growing Nylah Naturals, a worked part-time to financially support her family.  

“Because I put my daughter’s name to the company, I wanted her to see it become successful. I was driven by the idea of showing her the importance of consistency and persistence.

“At times when I thought ‘I can't do this, it's bigger than me, I’ve had enough’, I would remind myself that my daughter is watching and that kept me going.”

And persist she did. Kameese’s daily routine entailed waking up early to work on the brand, before getting the kids up. She was then mum until her children went to bed, before returning to work mode until the early hours.

As a result, Kameese admits establishing a business doesn’t allow for a good work-life balance. "I literally go from role to role,” she explains. “It can be exhausting and really difficult at times, but I'm just so besotted with this project.”

Kameese’s lack of entrepreneurial experience meant she initially financed the business herself.

“I bootstrapped everything, she says “I would work and save then use the money I saved and put it into the business.

“I did it that way because I didn't understand business. In hindsight, I should definitely have gone down the route of trying to raise capital in the early stages of the business development. It wasn't until I launched the product that I realised how important working capital is to grow the brand and reach the customer base.”

Kameese did receive some support from Innovate UK to help with the product formulation and the brand slowly grew as customers began to fall in love with Nylah’s Naturals products.

In early 2020, Nylah’s Naturals attracted the attention of a major high-street beauty retailer, but when the pandemic hit and retail across the UK closed, the deal collapsed. This was devastating for Kameese, who knew that brand recognition and PR were the essential next steps to growing her business.

Nylah’s Naturals targets a niche market, and to reach it, Kameese also needed working capital.  

Around the same time, Kameese read The Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes, a book that emphasises the importance of embracing opportunities and not talking yourself out of situations that could turn out to be beneficial.

And so, while watching Dragons’ Den, which featured an ad calling for entrepreneurs to take part in the upcoming series, Kameese decided to apply. “I saw the ad and thought ‘okay let's take a leaf out of the book I’ve just read’, and I submitted my online application.

“I’ve always loved the programme and watched it long before I wanted to be an entrepreneur

“I didn’t really expect anything to come of it, I recognised my turnover was not really reflective of the potential of the brand and my product is niche so I didn't even expect that I would be chosen to go in. But I was!”

Kameese was contacted by one of the show’s researchers who wanted to know more about the Nylah brand, and following this initial phone call she was invited to come and pitch to some of the show’s production team. Intrigued by Kameese’s story, and impressed by how far she had taken the business so far, they invited her to the next stage.

“It was about a four-stage process before you are actually selected to go into the Den,” Kameese describes. “And each stage I thought this would be the end. They told me approximately three to four weeks before I was due in the Den that I had been selected, so I didn't have very long to prepare.”

For any emerging entrepreneur, the opportunity to pitch your business on national television to the country’s most recognised angel investors is not one to be taken lightly. Kameese understood that given the current stage of her business, an appearance on Dragons’ Den would be a multifaceted opportunity.

“Going on Dragons’ Den gave me the opportunity to present Nylah’s Naturals to more than two million people watching the show, meaning I could get the brand directly in front of our target audience. That in itself was a massive opportunity. Assessing the viability of your business is so important, so if two million people saw Nylah Naturals on Dragons’ Den, and we didn’t see upgrowth because of it, then we’d need to assess whether the market wants our product.

“Of course, the opportunity to potentially partner with one of the amazing entrepreneurs who make up the Dragons, that was huge.”

On the day of her appearance, Kameese was the last entrepreneur to enter the Den. After a day spent pacing the dressing room, unable to leave due to COVID restrictions, Kameese was called up at around 8 o’clock at night.

The mumpreneur remembers grappling with exhaustion and nerves as she entered the Den to try and secure an investment that could completely transform her business. But once in front of the Dragons, a poised Kameese delivered her pitch, exuding the passion, knowledge and drive she had for Nylah’s Naturals. Her ask was a £50k investment for a 20% share in the business.

The Dragons were impressed by Kameese’s product and her unwavering determination, but questioned the modest turnover of the business.

Investor Tuka Solomon praised Kameese’s knowledge and delivery, but ultimately felt she had come into the Den too early, given her limited sales.

One by one the Dragons uttered the two word every contestant dread - ‘I’m out’.

“My heart sank and I just kept thinking ‘you're not crying on national TV, honey,’ Kameese remembers.

“It was devastating. I knew the market was there and I knew my product is good. I just wanted them to understand the reason my sales and turnover were so low is because I didn't have the opportunity to tap into the market because of a lack of finance. I was really frustrated because I felt like they were focusing on the numbers instead of the challenges I had to overcome.

“With investment, there's a lot of research and statistics that show women generally get less funding than men, and when you’re a woman of colour or a Black woman, the statistics are devastating.”

Last year, research carried out by Extend Venture showed that in the UK, Black female entrepreneurs received just 0.2% of overall funding. 

 As the Dragons pulled out, the heartache on the young entrepreneur's face grew more noticeable. Then the camera panned to Sara Davies.

The North East business woman, who rose to success with her brand Crafters Companion, told Kameese: “You don’t have a business worth quarter of a million, but with me on board, you could.”

Recognising Kameese’s sheer drive and determination, Sara Davies offered Kameese the £50k she was seeking, for a 40% share of the business, reducing it to 30% provided there was return on investment within 18 months.

The nation watched as an emotional Kameese accepted Sara’s offer and left the Den, defying the odds and securing the investment needed to grow the brand she had created for her daughter.

Since her appearance in the Den, Kameese’s company has gone from strength to strength, with new orders rolling in despite completely selling out of stock the week the episode aired.

Having the support of Sara Davies has also been transformational for Nylah’s Naturals, not just from a financial perspective.  

“Sara has been amazing,” Kameese explained. “She's not just an investor in profit, she's an investor in people. The way she presents herself onscreen is exactly how she is offscreen.

“I'm so lucky to have her onboard. She thinks in such an entrepreneurial way and is helping me to do the same. She's got me to think in a more profit orientated way. She's incredible”.  

Speaking on her investment, and her time working with Kameese, Sara Davies said: “My fellow dragons and I were all impressed by Kam in the Den, but the others felt that her business was a bit too new for them to be able make an investment. In my eyes, she had already done the hard part and I just saw an incredibly determined, resourceful entrepreneur who I knew I wanted to support.

“Since the show, Kam has been amazing to work with - she’s so passionate about what she does. We have some really exciting product development plans that we can’t wait to share with everyone once they’re ready!”

Kameese is now in talks with two major retailers, an important step in raising brand awareness and ensuring Nylah’s Naturals is readily available to prospective customers.

Once Nylah’s Naturals is well established in the UK, Kameese plans to take the product overseas to the African and American markets, both of which would be lucrative for the product she has created.

When asked what advice she would give to someone looking to start their own business, Kameese offers three key pieces of advice.

“Firstly, get your business assets sorted, have a detailed business plan and know exactly what you need to do to reach your financial goals, broken down to every penny.

“Instead of trying to create a whole range of products, focus on just a few and bring them to an investor. Try to get as much working capital as you can, as you need it to propel your business. I’m not saying it's impossible to do it without, but it is definitely a lot harder.

“Lastly, passion and determination can go a long way, so build your business brick by brick and try not to be overwhelmed by the bigger picture. And remember, mistakes are only lessons, use them as a springboard to drive your business even further.”

Kameese Davis’ entrepreneurial journey is just beginning, but she’s already achieved a phenomenal amount. Breaking the mould and defying the statistics, she has created the product her daughter needed while sculpting a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs across the country.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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