RALEIGH – Entrepreneur Melisse Shaban, the CEO and founder of Raleigh-based biotech haircare company Virtue Labs, has been named to the inaugural Forbes 50 Over 50 List, which celebrates women more than 50 years old making significant, extraordinary contributions to all parts of society.
Shaban founded the company after learning about a breakthrough technology developed as a way to use regenerative medicine to treat injuries from battlefield explosions, according to reporting from Lisa Roberts in Walter Magazine. The inventor of that technology, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Luke Burnett worked at the Winston-Salem biotechnology company, KeraNetics, at the time, and told Shaban that in addition to regenerating tissue, bone, and muscle, it might be able to be used to repair hair.
“I never expected to create a new haircare brand in my 50’s, but by chance, I was introduced to an extraordinary piece of technology that – surprise! – was never meant for haircare at all,” said Shaban. “But it was seeing the extraordinary, reparative results that this technology also has on damaged hair that made me want to share it with the world.”
About five years after initially learning about the technology, Shaban and a team of scientists developed it further. The technology, known as Alpha Keratin 60ku® , a protein, which is attracted to damaged parts of hair in such a way that the human body recognizes the product as its own, reducing spit ends by 95 percent, adding 22% in thickness, and increasing color and shine, according to the company.
The technology won the company the top spot in Popular Science’s 2019 Best of What’s New Awards, for an innovative product known as Virtue ColorKick, a pure keratin protein powder that can be used by professional hair color stylists to prevent damage traditionally associated with the coloring process, the third such award the company received since debuting products in 2017.
The company’s haircare products have won more than 50 editorial awards, and are favorites of leading celebrities like actor and entrepreneur Jennifer Garner, who is also a partner to the brand. Started as an online, direct-to-consumer business, Virtue is now available at retailers Sephora and Bluemercury, fine hair salons, and in 30 countries around the world.
Virtue Labs launched a new line of products, Flourish, earlier this year, that focuses on the human scalp. The products also use the keratin protein complex developed by the company, nourishing the scalp’s microbiome and strengthening the moisture barrier and clearing the follicles.
The company, based in Raleigh with its manufacturing facility in Winston-Salem, has a few dozen employees and has raised more than $70 million, according to Crunchbase. It holds the patent on the technology behind Alpha Keratin 60ku®.
Forbes honors Shaban alongside 49 other notable women that it says are “shattering age and gender norms” including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, television producer and show creator Shonda Rhimes, and the CEOs of major organizations like General Motors and Citigroup.