Spotlight Series: Interview with Dr Youmna Mouhamad, CEO and founder of Nyfasi

13 Oct 2021

Youmna Spotlight

For Black History Month, we're spotlighting Hub Member Dr Youmna Mouhamad. Youmna came to the UK from Mayotte, a French overseas department located on the east coast of Africa. She first trained as a physicist and worked for six years as a research scientist in printed electronics. She joined the Enterprise Fellowships programme in 2020 and is currently based at South Wales University, leading a startup that aims to commercialise the Nyfasi deluxe detangler. 

In your own words what is Nyfasi Deluxe detangler? Can you explain to our readers/the public how it works?

Women with afro-textured hair go through excruciating pain to apply conditioner to their hair. More than a detangling tool, the Nyfasi Deluxe Detangler and its patented release mechanism will be the first on the market to reduce the pain women experience from applying and distributing conditioners while detangling. 

Engineering is all about solving problems. What problem is your innovation solving?

Nyfasi is inspired by Nafasi, which in Shimaore means “having free time” or “having a good time.” It is with this spirit that the Nyfasi Deluxe Detangler was invented.

Years ago, I was an au pair caring for a girl with thick curly hair named Hazel. She would cry every time that it was being conditioned and detangled. My earliest memory of haircare is of me chatting and laughing with my sisters while my mother braided my hair. I wanted Hazel to experience the joy of hair care by changing it to a joyful and intimate moment where she connected with her mother, just like I did with mine.

What was the moment that made you think “I can turn this into a commercial opportunity”?

It was after testing the concept of an applicator comb. Twenty women tested a 3D printed prototype. They loved it and all said that there is currently no product on the market that brings them the same benefits. I remember thinking "well, you can't mess this one up!”

Wading into unknown territory can be unsettling – what were you most excited by and what was most challenging for you when starting out?

The first commercial research project I worked on was the development of a screen printed large area pressure sensor. This project made me fall in love with R&D and sparked an interest in the commercialisation of new technologies. Following this, I made sure I worked on projects with industrial partners in the hope of getting more insight on commercialisation.  I am enjoying my entrepreneurial journey, especially marketing, branding, and the creation of creative content. The subjects that I found the most challenging are financial modelling and fundraising. The positive thing is that I am curious about it, and I hope I will get more comfortable as my journey evolves. 

What motivates or inspires you to keep going with Nyfasi?

At 32 I had I achieved everything that was supposed to make me happy. Yet, I had no sense of purpose, low self-confidence, and little inner peace. This and the traumatic life experiences I had been through impacted my mental health. After trying counselling, motivational talks, and positive affirmations, I tried holistic coaching. Through this process, I have healed and unlocked my potential.  I want to set the next generation on a path to a bright future by providing personal development programmes.  This is what keeps me motivated on the days I feel like giving up.

What is your ultimate goal with Nyfasi?

The ultimate goal with Nyfasi is to work with our customers to develop and deliver quality products that bring value to their lives. The next significant phase is fundraising. We aim to go to market in the first quarter of 2022. 

October marks Black History Month in the UK. Why is BHM important to you and has being a BAME engineer had an impact on your career that is either positive or negative?

As a French Black citizen, the concept of BHM was very foreign to me. In France, we are not supposed to see race and it is illegal to collect data according to ethnicity. After that initial astonishment, I quickly grew to value and appreciate Black History Month. It is during these months that I learnt about the history of Black British people and had the opportunity to share my own experiences as a Black individual living in the UK. The mixture of celebration and open conversation enables the UK to progress much faster in mending the racial disparity and tension.

I am conscious that my experience as a Black European engineer might be different from a Black British engineer as the challenges change depending on the environment and circumstances. As a professional in the engineering field, my key challenge has been accessing the key decision-makers. I have been very fortunate to have been championed by some of my seniors.

What does diversity and inclusion mean to you, and why is it important for innovation?

For me, diversity means equal treatment and access to opportunities, and inclusion means an environment where everyone feels welcome. Diversity is essential for innovation as it nurtures creative thinking and strengthens their ability to recognise opportunities.   

How do you think racial parity in engineering can be achieved?

When establishing the BAME network at Swansea university, I focused on humanity and empathy. I was lucky that my key allies, whether from an ethnic minority background or not, shared the same mindset. 

I am not an expert, but I believe that equality can only be achieved through empathy and humanity. In the grand scheme of things, it is about human relationships and not statistics. The statistics should be the results of sustainable change rather than the goals. 

 Sustainable change can only be achieved with sincere self-aware leaders ready to assess their prejudice and motivation before looking at the institution. This will ensure that EDI is approached with intention and the appropriate funds to create the change. 

Is there something you know now that you wish someone had told you when you started?

You are as important as the vision you are trying to achieve. Nurture the mindset that self-care is a discipline. 

What impact has the Enterprise Fellowships programme had on your business? What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt?

The Fellowship has been a life-changing opportunity. It empowered me with the funds and knowledge to transform a good idea into a great product and a viable business. 

Every aspect of the programme was designed to support entrepreneurs, from the coaching to the modules and the mentoring. Even the weekly reporting offered the opportunity to reflect on the business development.

The Enterprise Fellowship is a great scheme; its brilliance lies in the collaborative approach with universities. South Wales University, Startup Stiwdio, and my mentor Dylan Jones Evan gave me access to local support and a local network that will last beyond the fellowship. 

 Quick fire questions

Who is your role model? My mother, with no education she never held back from doing anything. As a woman she also showed me that you can pursue what interests you and still be a wife and mother.

Tell us a random fact not many people know about you I am full of jokes lol!

What’s your guilty pleasure? Dancing. I tend to get lost in the moment and dance for three to four hours straight. Then I feel guilty of all the other things I could have been doing.

When I was a child, I wanted to be… a dancer

What are you currently binging on Netflix/Prime?

I don’t have a TV. I have Netflix but I only allow myself to watch movies, no tv shows allowed. They are too addictive so I have to discipline myself.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received? If you want to empower others, you need to work on yourself first.

Conversely, what has been the worst piece of advice? Don’t think I had any, I am surrounded by well-meaning people

I don’t understand why... there are some people with no passions

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? Miles Munroe. I admire his mindset and his teaching on leadership and life.

What are your top three desert island items? Water, food, music

What is the top piece of advice you would give to a potential applicant to the Hub? Get to know previous awardees prior applying. It will help you understand the requirements and put a stronger application.

If you were an investor, which Hub Member would you invest in? I would bet my money on Bella Ngo!

If you had to start all over again, would you do anything differently? If so, what? I wouldn’t do anything differently. Not because I didn’t make any mistakes but because I don’t want to foster a mindset of regret.

To follow Nyfasi's progress, you can follow its Twitter page here. You can also learn more about the support we provide through our Enterprise Fellowships programme and sign up for programme opening alerts here.

The Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub supports the UK’s brightest technology and engineering entrepreneurs to realise their potential.

We run three programmes for entrepreneurial engineers at different career stages. Each one offers equity-free funding, an extended programme of mentorship and coaching, and a lifetime of support through connection to an exceptional community of engineers and innovators.

The Enterprise Hub focuses on supporting individuals and fostering their potential in the long term, taking nothing in return. This sets us apart from the usual ‘accelerator’ model. The Enterprise Hub’s programmes last between 6 and 12 months, and all programmes give entrepreneurs lifelong access to an unrivalled community of mentors and alumni.

Our goal is to encourage creativity and innovation in engineering for the benefit of all. By fostering lasting, exceptional connections between talent and expertise, we aim to create a virtuous cycle of innovation that can deliver on this ambition.

The Enterprise Hub was formally launched in April 2013. Since then, we have supported over 220 researchers, recent graduates and SME leaders to start up and scale up businesses that can give practical application to their inventions. We’ve awarded over £8 million in grant funding, and our Hub Members have gone on to raise over £380 million in additional funding. 


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