Ross Alum Wins $100K in Steve Case’s Startup Competition

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Shelly Sahi, MBA ‘16, has done it again.


The 2016 Ross MBA graduate won $100,000 in Steve Case’s “Rise of the Rest” competition in Ann Arbor, beating seven other impressive startups for support of her makeup company, Sahi Cosmetics.

Sahi’s company has won several funding competitions during the past two years––including support from the Zell Lurie Institute and a coveted spot in its Desai Accelerator––but this is the largest amount it has attracted so far.

This latest win adds to the cosmetics company’s impressive momentum. Sahi, who launched the company while a Ross student just last year, was recently featured in Marie Claire magazine for the company’s inclusivity and quality.

Sahi Cosmetics offers makeup specifically tailored to women with medium skin tones: those of Indian, Arabic, Mediterranean, and Latin ethnicity whose needs haven’t always been fully met by other makeup companies. These women make up over 50 percent of the $50 billion makeup industry, Sahi said during her four-minute pitch Wednesday night at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.

Sahi’s products also include lipsticks, eyeshadows, blushes, and contouring kits meant to enhance the unique coloring of medium skin tones, which often have a yellow hue.

It was her dedication to inclusivity––as well as her expertise of the makeup industry and her diligent accounting––that propelled her to win Wednesday night, according to judges.

“She is the epitome of an entrepreneur who knows her business and the industry,” said competition judge Marlin Williams, an entrepreneur in residence for TechTown Detroit. “And she is courageous enough to build an entire brand, not just a product, in a market that is saturated.”

Sahi faced strident competition. Other startups’ products and pitches included non-electric blankets saving infant lives in developing countries, launched by Ross alum Grace Hsia; a supercapacitor capable of replacing and outperforming batteries in everything from cars to cell phones; software that uses genetic testing to diagnose and treat cancer; and automotive software that predicts vehicle failures before they occur.

Elevating startups such as these is a key part of Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Tour. The co-founder of AOL and billionaire investor is giving away a total of $500,000 to a startup in five different cities. He hopes to show that startups can succeed anywhere, not just in a few coastal cities in the U.S.

“All eight of these companies were terrific,” Case said. “Hopefully people sitting here said, ‘how can I help that company,’ whether it’s with coaching or being an investor or a customer. We hope that everyone on stage today feels like a winner and Ann Arbor rallies to support them. Because if they are successful, Ann Arbor will be successful.”

“There have been a lot of people in this community who have helped me get to this point, given me mentorship and advice and guidance,” Sahi said as she posed with her oversized check. “I think this is a win for Ann Arbor. Thank you so much.”

Judges for the Ann Arbor competition included Case; Williams; Scott DeRue, the Edward J Frey Dean of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business; J.D. Vance, author of the Hillbilly Elegy; David Hall from Revolution LLC; Ashley Larson from Revolution Growth, and Robert J. Manilla from The Kresge Foundation.  

Case was joined in Ann Arbor by Ross alum Tige Savage, MBA ‘98 and U-M alum Donn Davis, Case’s partners at Revolution, a Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm with more than $1 billion in assets.

Through the initiative, nearly $3 million has been invested in startup businesses across a diverse set of 26 cities including Detroit, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Madison, Philadelphia, New Orleans and more.

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