According to a Boston Consulting Group report, women-founded companies receive less than half the average investment than those founded by men entrepreneurs. Yet despite this shocking example of gender inequality, women-led start-ups perform better over time, generating 10 percent higher cumulative revenue over a five-year period.

This fact has not been lost on Maesa, the leading mass beauty incubator whose portfolio includes breakout brands such as Kristin Ess Hair, Being Frenshe, Hairitage by Mindy McKnight, Fine’ry, Flower Beauty by Drew Barrymore, and more. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Maesa announced the launch of its #MaesaMagicIncubator program in July 2023 as a way to close the entrepreneurial access gap and empower early-stage beauty and wellness entrepreneurs from under-served communities—specifically those who are women, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, differently-abled or found their brand-building calling later in life.

“Maesa embraces the principle that investing in our communities yields shared rewards – and a little bit of magic.” says Piyush Jain, CEO of Maesa. “By breaking down barriers and offering our proven expertise, the #MaesaMagicIncubator aims to create a more inclusive and diverse beauty industry, thriving on innovation and creativity.”

Maesa Chief Brand Officer Oshiya Savur shares, “As a company with entrepreneurial roots and spirit, we understand the challenges that brand founders are facing and our goal has been to give them the right tools, resources, and networking opportunities to scale their brands and make them standout in their respective categories. It was important to us to cultivate a program that met these entrepreneurs at their point of need.”

With the promise of a $35,000 grant for #MaesaMagicIncubator winners upon completion of the program, hundreds of applications were received after the launch announcement. “We were delighted by the overwhelming response and enthusiasm we received from entrepreneurs all over the country,” says Savur. “The pool of applicants was extremely competitive, and it was a combination of a robust review process and interviews that led to our incredible winners and finalists. In all of them, we saw glimpses of that #MaesaMagic dedication to pushing boundaries and thinking outside the box.”

Maesa revealed the program’s 10 finalists back in October, along with the three winners who would embark on an intensive 12-week brand-building journey. The comprehensive curriculum included six weeks of foundational business lectures and one-on-one working sessions on function fundamentals. At this point, the winners were asked to choose a track that included the “major” and “minor” that would most benefit their brands at their current phase.

The second half of the program featured four weeks of individualized hands-on training as well as fireside chats with industry experts, and two weeks of prep for their final pitch. The winners also had the opportunity to attend the “Future of Commerce and Work” leadership development program hosted by Emerson Group at the Harvard Faculty Club in Boston.

The program wrapped up last week with each winner presenting their entrepreneurial journey and brand story along with the tangible deliverables that were developed over the course of the program to an esteemed advisory board. Among the elements evaluated were the founders’ articulation of the problem their target consumers face, the clarity of the solution provided by their brand, their understanding of both their total addressable market and target market, their growth and expansion plan and the overall narrative.

The judging panel was comprised of Maesa leadership, including Jain, Savur and Chief Growth Officer Scott Kestenbaum; Hairitage Founder and CEO Mindy McKnight; Create & Cultivate founder Jaclyn Johnson; and motivational speaker and writer Jodi-Ann Burey. Each of the judges provided the winners with valuable feedback and tools for growing their businesses.

After completing their “final exam,” the members of the inaugural 2024 #MaesaMagicIncubator class have turned their tassels in a sense and officially graduated. CEW caught up with the three up-and-coming beauty-brand founders to learn about their experience over the past 12 weeks, as well as their biggest takeaways.


Founder: Keisha Wagner-Gaymon

Brand: Fuzz Clinic

Background: Nurse practitioner, founder of Peach Fuzz Skin Studio in Brooklyn

Brand mission: “Addressing the unique pre- and post-hair removal needs of women, bringing more joy to the hair-removal process, uplifting women and instilling confidence.”

Where did your brand stand before you were selected as a finalist? “We were in the product development phase.”

What roadblocks had you hit? “We needed help finding our brand direction and identity.”

What was the most important thing you learned? “Building a brand takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

What were you most surprised to learn? “How much you have to pay social media influencers to promote your brand.”

How will you use your grant to grow your business? “Marketing, rebranding our social media, and investing in product development.”

What’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Go for it. You don’t know what doors will open unless you try. Keep knocking down doors and eventually you’ll get to your goal.”


Founder: Nikita Charuza

Brand: Squigs Beauty

Background: Fashion and beauty editor

Brand mission: “Making Ayurveda feel more accessible and approachable to all while using our ‘Happy Headcare’ mission to give back to mental-health charities.”

Where did your brand stand before you were selected as a finalist? “We had launched our first two SKUs and established retail partnerships with Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Pop Up Grocer in New York and Amazon.”

What roadblocks had you hit? “I was trying to expand our retail partnerships and needed help getting our brand messaging across in the DTC and retailer landscapes.”

What was the most important thing you learned? “What I needed to focus on and what I could physically do myself to see results within a few months.”

What were you most surprised to learn? “That bigger brands have similar issues to what I’m experiencing as a small business, although at a different level.”

How will you use your grant to grow your business? “Research and development for new products, testing out different ad strategies and IRL community-building events.”

What’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs? “In terms of your career path, everything that you do always ends up being a full-circle moment that helps you in the moment you’re in today. Anyone who’s out there hoping to start their own business shouldn’t be afraid to do it, even if they don’t have a background in it.”


Founder: Selah Jael

Brand: House of Foster

Background: Studying chemical engineering at the University of Chicago

Brand mission: “To create a modern fragrance house that’s rooted in intention and moody, unorthodox, defiant and different on purpose.”

Where did your brand stand before you were selected as a finalist? “I was actually in the middle of rebranding everything—from brand aesthetic and core offerings to how we were going to show up on social and set the brand apart. Being selected for the Maesa incubator program was perfect timing because it allowed me to look at things very strategically and get guidance before I made any concrete decisions, which is a thing that not all brands get to do.”

What roadblocks had you hit? “Mentorship and funding.”

What was the most important thing you learned? “Balancing the differences between early DTC success with retail metrics is key to making sure you can sustainably grow on shelf.”

What were you most surprised to learn? I learned so many surprising things about fragrance-specific manufacturing. Truly. From heat testing to ingredient regulations, to label material and touch points down the line.”

How will you use your grant to grow your business? “I will mainly be using the grant to give the brand a much-needed facelift. (I launched during the start of the pandemic and couldn’t even be present at the photo shoot!) I’ll also be bringing some people in that will help me build out what the foundation of House of Foster is going to look like as I began testing our new fragrance offerings.”

What’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Take the time to invest in personal development along with the more tangible and practical things your brand needs. It will make you a better founder and ultimately, a better boss when it comes time to lead and scale.”

“Over the course of our inaugural #MaesaMagicIncubator program, we have endeavored to accomplish our mission of amplifying the unique voices of beauty entrepreneurs and empowering them to grow their brands. Our goal was to support unparalleled innovation in white spaces that have the capacity to break through and succeed in market,” says Jain. “In our 2024 class, we see the will to make magic by delivering products that solve real problems and fulfill unmet consumer needs. Our program stands as a testament that investing in our communities yields shared rewards for us all. This class is an exciting beginning, and we look forward to welcoming more beauty and wellness entrepreneurs who embody Maesa Magic into the program in the near future.”