By Diane Mastrull
The Philadelphia Inquirer
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) It’s back to the books this fall for Neha Raman, one of the stars of TLC’s “Girl Starter” which followed the entrepreneurial journeys of four teams of contestants, each of whom had six weeks to come up with an idea for a new business and get it started.
In the fall, Neha Raman will head back to Temple University as a junior, with every right to complain of boredom.
Classes in operations management and finance await her. That’s far from the thrill of competing on TLC’s Girl Starter, where Raman and a partner bagged a $30,000 prize earlier this year for a business plan they developed.
The 20-year-old Philadelphia-area resident has devoted the rest of the year to growing her own business, Rungh, a mix-your-own-color nail-polish company that Raman came up with while still a high school student. She had taken a year off from Temple to do that and accommodate Girl Starter’s taping schedule, 14-hour days, six days a week, for seven weeks.
“It’s going to be weird going back to being a student,” Raman, a finance major, said recently. “If this explodes to a level where I can’t do school anymore, this is first.”
This being Rungh, named for the Hindi word for colors. The online business (https://www.rungh.com/) offers kits containing 18 pigment capsules and six 11-milliliter bottles of a colorless base, capable of producing at least 132 different colors. The DIY experience sells for $39.95, with pigment refills available. Different colors are released each season.
Since marketing began in late November 2015, Rungh has sold 400 kits. But Raman is expecting some significant bounce from her national exposure on Girl Starter.
The show’s six episodes followed four teams of contestants, each of whom had six weeks to come up with an idea for a new business and get it started. Raman was partnered with a young woman from Ohio who also was a budding entrepreneur.
Their product, thought-provoking cookies with a question baked inside, earned them a second-place prize of $30,000 in a finale that aired in early June.
Since the end of taping in late March, Raman said, she has been “making sure Rungh was lined up if we got a crazy amount of traffic.”
Overall, sales for the fledgling company, started with a $40,000 infusion from her parents and a family friend, with the kits made in China, have been “decent,” she said, acknowledging that she had been “anticipating more.”
Then again, hers is a business with “a learning curve,” Raman said. “Everyone knows what nail polish is. No one knows how to make it.”
But she saw business opportunity there: She’s been painting her own nails since she was 4 or 5.
“I was very obsessed with nail art and growing my nail-polish collection,” said Raman, amassing “easily 200 colors.” She was 17 when the inspiration for Rungh struck at a Home Depot, where she watched employees satisfy paint orders by infusing a base with squirts of color.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God. If I could make a mini-version of this, this is how I could make this product,'” she recalled.
aving an idea is one thing. Selling it is another. How difficult building sales can be is among the entrepreneurial lessons she has learned, Raman said: “That was one of the biggest lessons I learned: You really have to advertise like crazy.”
In this social media-obsessed world, that includes getting exposure from YouTube influencers. Raman managed to land a big one when she mailed a Rungh nail kit to beauty guru Chelsea Crockett, who demonstrated how to use it in a February 2016 video. During the first half of that year, Raman won a total of $15,000 in two Philadelphia pitch competitions, College Pitch Philly and Temple’s Be Your Own Boss Bowl.
She has also learned the value of networking. Among those she has reached out to for advice is Jess Edelstein, co-founder of local natural deodorant company PiperWai, whose 2015 appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank brought a crush of orders.
“Pursuing entrepreneurship takes guts, passion, and more hard work than anyone employed in a regular job could ever comprehend,” Edelstein said. “Neha gets it; most college students don’t.”
College. The last time Raman was enrolled in classes was spring 2016.
The break she took to focus on the company and her Girl Starter appearance was supported by her mother, Usha, who works in data analytics for a health-insurance company, and her father, N.J., a pharmaceuticals market researcher. They want their daughter to have a college degree but support her entrepreneurial ambitions.
“Nowadays, there’s nothing like a secure job,” Usha said. “We are strongly encouraging Neha to be her own boss.”
Like many entrepreneurs, Neha Raman has other business ideas, but she’s not ready to disclose them. She would say only that they involve the cosmetics industry.
“I’m just a makeup nerd,” Raman said.
A makeup nerd with a new school year right around the corner.
“She’s definitely going to come back a star,” said Ellen Weber, executive director of Temple’s Fox School of Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute, confident that the school can hold Raman’s interest. “We provide so many resources to entrepreneurs that you can actually get a lot done while you’re in school. There will be plenty to keep her engaged.”