Entrepreneurship Starts with a Good Night’s Sleep for Nollapelli

Nollapelli founder Allison Howard refused to sleep on her idea... or subpar bedding. “ I would notice first thing in the morning when I looked in the mirror that my skin was slept on,” explains Howard. It wasn’t until she remembered her Grandmother swearing by her beauty rest on a satin pillow that Howard started rethinking traditional cotton sheets and pillowcases.

Founder Allison Howard

Founder Allison Howard

Sleeping on it

Howard spent a lot of time searching around online for solutions before she began her venture. “Silk and satin pillowcases have been around forever, but they only addressed one piece of it.” Pillowcases on the market stopped the friction part of the problem, but Howard was looking for something that addressed moisture and temperature as well.

“I started digging in and what I learned is that [...] cotton is going to absorb that moisture and hold onto it, and that creates a surface that sticks to your skin and pulls on it as you toss and turn. That’s not a good combination if you're looking to take care of your skin.”

Disappointed with products already on the market, Howard put her chemical engineering background to work: “I just started to wonder to myself, can't we engineer fabrics that have a better mix of properties but feel more like bedding that we would actually want to sleep on? And honestly, I just couldn't get that idea out of my head.”

She knew from first-hand customer research she wasn’t the only one with this problem. “99% of the time, as soon as I say ‘slept on’ look, you can almost see the light bulb go off, and the person gets it. I think so many of us have noticed that we’ve just never considered it a problem that could be solved.”

With that, Howard developed a prototype, and Nollapelli was born. Nollapelli’s sheets and pillowcases use a combination of natural and synthetic yarns designed to balance moisture, temperature, and friction to combat the notorious “slept on” look of skin the morning.

Beauty Rest(less)

While the idea of leaving her job to pursue her venture was scary, it didn’t take long for Howard to quit her day job and take a self-proclaimed “half step” to pursuing Nollapelli full time.

“I left corporate America and picked up a consulting job, which was part time-ish.” But, it was only about a month into it that Howard realized, “if I was serious about wanting to try and figure this out, the only way to do that is to focus full time on it.”

Howard attributes her willingness to dive in headfirst, in part, to her ambition. In her mind, Nollapelli was never meant to be a small business. “In fact, I always cringe when I hear that term small business,” Howard explains. “I don't aspire to have a small business. I aspire to have a very big business. Once I wrapped my head around that, I knew the only way that you can do that is by giving it every ounce of your attention and energy.”

Tucking into Pittsburgh’s Startup Scene

Almost as if by fate, Ascender’s application process was open as Howard began to pursue her venture full time in late 2016. “I quickly realized I need to really connect with people who know how to create a startup,” says Howard. Nollapelli was one of four companies Ascender welcomed into its incubator that December. “ It's been just a fabulous, fabulous experience.”

And with that, Howard dove in headfirst into Pittsburgh’s startup scene. “I started meeting more entrepreneurs and learning that they were not too dissimilar to me—that they were normal people who had an idea.”

After working on her idea for just over two and a half years, Nollapelli’s really only been open for (e-commerce) business for the past three months. “That shows how much has gone into this product that we've brought into the world. Lots of research, lots of testing,” Howard says. Early days were research and testing, now Howard’s learning the ins and outs e-commerce for the first time.

Howard might not know all the answers now, she’s ascribed to the belief that she can learn them with a growing team of mentors and advisors. “Always be looking to surround yourself with people who know more than you do.”

EMMA DIEHL - Contributing Writer

Emma is a Pittsburgh-based technology and lifestyle writer, covering everything from machine learning in law enforcement to historic building preservation. Her byline has appeared on XOJane, NPR, Huffington Post, NEXTPittsburgh, and Very Local.

Originally published on Thursday, March 21st, 2019