Class of 2018: Heli Prilliman


A variety of neon signs line the walls of Lacquerbar.

A variety of neon signs line the walls of Lacquerbar.


The selection of colors, nails, and nail art one can have done.

The selection of colors, nails, and nail art one can have done.

Heli Prilliman, Founder, Lacquerbar

Being a founder is hard, being a Latina-woman-founder in a male-venture-dominated Bay Area can seem dismal—for Lacquerbar founder, Heli Prilliman, tenacity to change outdated spaces inspired her to quit her tech day-job to rewrite the nail industry in and out. We met up with Heli in Berkeley at the Lacquerbar—covered in neon signs, we explored the ins and outs of female entrepreneurial-ship and what Heli has next in mind.

So tell us about the name of Lacquerbar? How did you reach the name and does it hold significance?

As someone from brand and copywriting background, I totally nerded out in the naming of Lacquerbar. Because my vision for Lacquerbar is so much bigger than just being a cool space to get your nails done. It’s a manicure and mimosa after a long day of work. It’s a Beyonce-inspired girls night out. It’s an online community of nail techs dedicated to filling the education gap that today’s beauty schools leave their students, particularly lower income communities of color. It’s nail art with rainbows or sugar skulls to express yourself. Lacquerbar is an EXPERIENCE to empower women and femmes. And our name paints (pun totally intended) this fun glossy picture that vibes with our unique and aspirational vision.

The Lacquerbar is also home to women who want to be pampered and feel apart of their community—how has the mission of the brand changed, adapted, morphed since launch?

Inclusivity, and the language we use around it, is so important, especially considering the current cultural and political environment. I had prided myself in making diversity and inclusion a priority at Lacquerbar from the get go. However, after sharing my vision with the amazing #girlboss that is Natalia Oberti Noguera of Pipeline Angels, she gave me a come to Jesus about how our mission to empower women from all cultures and backgrounds with education, beauty, and confidence didn’t specifically mention those who identify as femme! And she was so right!!! We’ve always been a safe and welcoming space for those who identify as a women or femme, but now we’re more cognizant and intentional across all our communication channels about using inclusive terminology.  

The interior of Lacquerbar’s Berkeley space.

The interior of Lacquerbar’s Berkeley space.

You went from high profile tech to nail school, how was that transition when concepting the business?

At first, it was super exciting to be learning a totally new skill set that was so far from the skills I used in the tech world. But once I attended a local beauty school and did a ton of research on the nail technician education industry, I found that the current beauty school system is severely broken and sets up nail techs for failure. Especially minorities from lower income communities. That’s when I felt the urgency to create something better for nail techs everywhere — not just with careers at Lacquerbars, but also an affordable online education platform for nail techs to get the skills they just don’t get from today’s highly antiquated and/or exploitative for-profit beauty schools.

How has being a Latina-born woman shaped your vision of being an entrepreneur? It’s a hard field to navigate but what are some things you do to boost your own morale when business seems dark? 

Today, female founded startups receive only 2% of venture funding. It’s even worse for women of color; Latina founders get less than 0.1%!!! Previously, I avoided talking about my journey as the daughter of an illegal immigrant, and all the different obstacles my family and I overcame to succeed as Mexican Americans from a lower income rural farm community. But  those experiences made me a better founder — I can do so much more with far less resources because that’s what I’ve always had to do. Am I saying investors should fund Lacquerbar just because I’m a Latina founder? Of course not. But there is an extreme lack of Latina representation in the startup and VC community and we deserve a seat at the table.

What would you say to day 1 you if you could pass on any advice? Explain why you chose that.

Networking can be done in a way that isn’t soul crushing. I used to avoid networking events/conferences like poo in SoMa! The idea of a lot of egocentric people meeting other egocentric people, for the purpose of getting something from them, just sounded gross. Especially considering most of these startup related events have an abundance of privileged white dudes who I have nothing in common with. BUT, I’ve found by just attending these types of events you gain new insights and can meet other founders in your space who can probably relate to a lot of what you’re going through. And you can help each other out and trade warm intros!

// 2040 Fourth St, Berkeley,

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