June 27, 2019 | 84° F

Cutting edge Rutgers start-up chosen to present at Collision conference

3 Rutgers students have set out to revolutionize the hair-cutting industry

Photo by Courtesy of Jack Cook |

Shape Me Up, a virtual grooming tool, allows users to clean up their haircuts before major job interviews or dates through facial recognition technology and advanced coding. The app was created by three Rutgers students — Ajay Puri, Waleed Khan and Shereen Bellamy.

Haircuts and face shaving is on the brink of a revolutionary development if a few Rutgers students and their startup company have a say in it.

The Rutgers start-up company, Shape Me Up, was selected to present at Collision Conference in New Orleans in May. The conference is “America’s fastest growing tech conference,” according to their site. Notable attendees include CEOs and co-founders from companies such as Facebook, Wells Fargo and Bitmoji.

Shape Me Up was created by School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior Ajay Puri, School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Waleed Khan and School of Arts and Sciences senior Shereen Bellamy.

“So basically Shape Me Up is a virtual grooming tool that allows people to do their own shape-ups. A shape-up is basically to clean themselves up before an interview or a party or a date night, things like that, just to look as presentable as possible,” Puri said.

The app uses the same facial recognition as apps like Snapchat to apply a filter to an individual’s face to use guidelines to achieve the desired style, he said.

The idea for Shape Me Up came from Puri, who said he thought of the idea because he used to cut hair by himself. When he was 9 years old, Puri said his father would give him bowl cuts, which inspired him to take the scissors into his own hands.

When he came to Rutgers, Puri would cut hair for additional money, but eventually, he did not have the time to fit everyone into his schedule. Because of this, he was inspired to “put the barber’s eye into an app.”

With the idea in mind, Puri attended the Rutgers Research Innovation Startup and Expedition (RISE) startup weekend conference run by the Rutgers Entrepreneurial Society in the fall, where he pitched his idea to the attendees. There, he met Khan and Bellamy and they teamed up to continue with the project after startup weekend.

Puri said Bellamy applied to the conference without knowing just how big it was. Last year, there were 86,000 applicants for the Collision Conference, and only 3,000 were invited.

“They get only the best startups because we’re participating in such a big conference, and we’re presenting to big people. All these CEOs … it’s top level people that are coming to this conference, only the best of the best and it’s amazing how we were selected. A small Rutgers startup, that just started a couple of months ago in August … and now we’re competing against the best in the world,” Puri said.

The future of Shape Me Up will hopefully involve integration into smart mirrors, where the app will be utilized in barbershops and hair salons to show clients what their hairstyle will look like on them before it is actually cut, Puri said.

With the app implementation into salons, Puri said they hope to introduce a variable pricing model with it. He said this feature will help clients to know what they are paying for before the hair cut and can adjust their styles to be within their range of affordability.

The ultimate goal, Puri said, is to reinvent the hair industry.

For now, the team is looking for investors and ways to better the app, such as location services, Puri said. These services would allow users to swipe right and see where the nearest barber or salon is.

By the time Puri and Khan attend Collision Conference in May, they hope to have a solid version of the app up and running, Puri said. For now, they have the beta version. They have plans to have it up and running for May so that they can demonstrate the app in real time on attendees of the conference.

Although the students say they “always” feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the app and what it is becoming, Puri said the support from the Rutgers community is prevalent.

“People will always come up to us and say… dude, that’s a great idea, I would totally use that, I can see this working. So that’s very gratifying because you see that, you know, people are actually supporting the idea. Students are like, ‘wow’, they look up to that,” he said.

Khan, who handles more of the technical side of the app, said that meeting Puri at RiSE is what made him so passionate about the event.

“His passion rubs off, honestly. It’s his energy, and not to mention it’s the vision. Just being able to see it scaled globally and see it as a tool that you could see everyone using. You could see that wants to wake up one day and just be able to look in the mirror and just clean themselves up without having to go to a barber and get a haircut,” Khan said. “... It’s like trying to build a plane while it’s taking off.”

Through the app being placed in smart mirrors in salons and barbershops, Puri said this will help eliminate the disconnect between the hairstylist and clients because they can visually see what they want.

Puri also said the app can help upsell hairstyles, by showing clients what a certain hairstyle looks like, even if it slightly more expensive. The visual may be an additional incentive to spend a little extra.

The ultimate goal past the conference, Khan said, is to keep growing and expanding.

Despite being a teacher’s assistant, managing an internship, developing Shape Me Up and continuing to cut hair on the side, Puri said it’s “all about the grind," and that the love he has for the app and seeing it grow is an amazing feeling and keeps him going.

“I feel like I inspire people because I’m not a business major. I wasn’t an entrepreneur minor or major, I was a food science major, totally different, completely out of the way and I’m doing nothing in food … I’m doing something completely different… It’s (about) what you find that you’re like ‘you know what, I want to change that, how can I make it better, how do I revolutionize that?’” Puri said. “It doesn’t matter what you are doing, or what you’re studying, or what you’re expertise is in, those (qualities) are the things that are going to drive you to go towards that goal, and actually getting it done.”

Chloe Dopico is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is the associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @ChloeDopico for more.

Chloe Dopico

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