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An unexpected path

August 27, 2019

Nicole Baranowski
Nicole Baranowski, BA'19, received donor support that enabled her to explore new challenges including business, entrepreneurship and rowing.

When Nicole Baranowski, BA’19, started at Western in kinesiology and sport management, she planned to become a physiotherapist. Little did she know her path would transform her into a budding entrepreneur.

During a course on entrepreneurship and kinesiology, her class was tasked with identifying a problem they faced. “The only thing I could think of was how my long hair wouldn’t stay out of the way when I exercised,” she said.

Her problem struck a chord with her classmates, so she developed a business plan, pitched it to her professor and a visiting panel and soon had prototypes for HairStrong, a customizable hair band. Unlike conventional hair ties that rely on elastic tension, HairStrong’s no-slide design clips and tightens to lock hair into a ponytail or bun.

Baranowski registered the business and was subsequently accepted into the summer program at Propel, Western’s Entrepreneurship accelerator, which has been instrumental to growing her business.

“They’ve really guided me along. If I had questions, I would go in and talk to the business analyst who would walk me through next steps because I didn’t know anything about business,” she laughed.

Prior to pursuing her entrepreneurial dreams, she also received donor-funded financial awards, which enabled her to branch out further and consider even more challenges. Although she had never rowed before, she signed up for the novice program and subsequently joined Western’s varsity rowing team.

“The awards helped me focus intently on both rowing and school. I still had a part-time job and a work-study position, but I didn’t have to work as much,” she said.

Baranowski plans to begin a Master’s program in management at the Ivey Business School in January 2020 and continue growing her business. She already has a Mustangs team order for purple HairStrong bands.

“Coming into university, I relied on OSAP loans. My parents don’t have a lot of money, I don’t have a lot of money, so everything I’ve received from the University and its donors has helped decrease the stress involved with studying, with school, with everything,” she said.

Interested in learning how you can support students like Nicole? Please contact Sheri Cole,, 519 661-2111 x88856

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