Bella Trang

Bella Trang Ngo is 24 years old and, Co-Founder and CEO of Brarista.

Bella has created an AI-enabled bra-fitting software replicating the process of professional fitting online. Brarista enables women to self-measure the correct bra fit in different products – using any digital camera. Using a proprietary algorithm built on a dataset of thousands of real-life women. Bella was recently awarded a Highly Commended Award at the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub’s Launchpad Competition Final. She will now receive membership from the Enterprise Hub, giving her access to expert mentoring and training support as she grows Brarista.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I was born and raised in Vietnam. I moved to the UK to live and study on my own when I was 14. I then moved to London to do a degree in Economics and Business and later my MSc in Entrepreneurship – both at the UCL.

From a young age, I’ve always been a girl with a ‘side hustle’. From the ages of 11 to 14, I ran a highly popular e-commerce directory on a Vietnamese online forum, which helped women find different places to buy products online.

I also set up a fashion boutique, importing goods from popular Chinese websites such as Taobao. In fact, throughout my teens, and right through University, I’ve always been looking for opportunities to be entrepreneurial – from fashion ventures to student societies.

Fast forward to today, I’m currently the CEO and co-founder at Brarista – a fashion-tech start-up based at UCL Innovation and Enterprise. We’re here to radically improve the way women shop for bras.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not necessarily, but I’ve always preferred learning by doing, as I’m able to make better decisions when I have first-hand experience. So that’s what I focus on, by making sure I get involved with a diverse range of activities at different organisations.

Twice a year, I’ll try and sit down and reflect on my experiences and the areas that align most with my personal interests, that way I’m always tuning into my bigger picture – and the direction I want my career to move in.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

When I completed my undergraduate degree, I was torn between entering either a consultancy or banking job (the only two industries I knew that would sponsor international students, and is much fantasized among students who study the likes of Economics), or to find opportunities in a sector that was really of interest to me (direct to consumer brands) but that might require relocation to other parts of the world.

And when I was finishing my graduate school, I was torn between building a start-up in something that would yield relatively instant success and cashflow opportunities, or to establish a start-up in an area that really mattered to me, but that would take time and require a lot of rapid learnings.

In between these decisions, there was also the thought to go back home to Vietnam and be closer to my family.

But in the end, I chose the route that would allow me to learn and grow the most as an independent individual and put my youth, thinking and motivation to good use for the causes that I believe in and benefits our society).

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?  

Receiving the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub’s Highly Commended Award at its 2019 Launchpad Competition was a real career highlight.

The judging panel confirmed that I was the first individual from a femtech start-up to be shortlisted, and also the first to receive Hub membership resulting from my commendation at the competition. I’m so proud that my mission to help women find the right bra fit is being recognised as both a socially and commercially attractive venture from some of the UK’s top engineering and entrepreneurial minds.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

For me, it’s about resilience; I even have a list of quotes on being resilient by my bedside table to keep motivating me every day.

I find it’s helpful in uncomfortable times, to ask ‘What can this do FOR me’ instead of ‘Why did this happen TO me’.

As an immigrant entrepreneur I’m away from my family and often find myself feeling lonely on my journey. There has been many hardships that have made me want to quit, but when you believe so strongly in a vision, it’s hard to let it go without a strong fight.

A remedy I always follow when I’m faced with difficult decisions is:

  • take a day off to process the information and emotions;
  • reach out to people to get advice;
  • and make incremental moves to make myself move forward.

How does mentorship, like at the Enterprise Hub, help you move your career forward and achieve even more successes?

As an entrepreneur, having mentors who believe in you and are willing to make time for you is key. It’s also important to form your own group of advocates who can vouch for you at any time. The support from UCL (where we’re based), the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub and InnovateUK Women In Data&AI have been invaluable in giving us the confidence to present Brarista to the wider public. I look forward to having the support of experienced mentors as Brarista progresses and we face many new challenges.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Focus on thinking about building meaningful solutions – solutions that make sense and solutions that put end-users first. I’d also say not to shy away from voicing your points of view when you see how the process or design can be improved. Technology should be inclusive, and should work for all.

What do you think companies can do to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Judgement based on merits (that actually matter to the company’s performance) and flexible working environments for all.

The management team should consist of people with the right shared vision, competencies and work ethic, rather than people who can give the give the most amount of facetime.

There are currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Every stakeholder in the tech space (including consumers of tech-based products) should realise that to build an impactful product, all gender and backgrounds should be considered equally.

That way, successful companies will have to be built on diversity, and women like me would feel less patronised or excluded in discussions because we know that what we say has equal weight to our male peers.

A good reference for this is The Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

  • Go to events whenever you can– meeting and engaging with a person in real life builds a much more intimate bond.
  • How To Own the Room by Viv Groskop
  • For Asian founders – The Nest (community)
  • Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
  • YSYS (a community for underrepresented founders and members in the tech space)