Providence, Rhode Island Entrepreneur Sees His Future in the Muse Mirror
Akintoye "Toye" Onikoyi, CEO, Muse Interactive
It’s been called the “Great Resignation,” when millions of Americans have left their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue better opportunities. Indeed, nearly 4.5 million people quit their jobs in November 2021, as reported by CBS News. Every employer is impacted by this trend, especially in this labor market that favors employees.
Akintoye “Toye” Onikoyi quit his full-time job in February after nearly six years at Rite-Solutions, most recently as a software engineer, in Middletown, Rhode Island, just ten minutes north of scenic Newport. Toye (pronounced “Toy yea”) was not seeking a plush corner office on the 26th floor in the Industrial National Bank Building in Providence, or better working conditions. He resigned to become the CEO of Muse Interactive (MI), a technology startup.
Toye, 30, is the CEO and product architect. His team consists of Kelechi Agwunobi, head of business development; Larry Adigun, head of marketing; and Etebom Samuel, lead developer, all of whom are Nigerian. The company’s first product is the Muse Mirror, a smart mirror that displays beauty information, makeup tips, video tutorials, and daily affirmations.
“My vision is people waking up in the morning and not looking at their mobile phone because their phone is still charging near the bed,” says Toye. Your alarm clock is on your mirror, so you’re going to the Muse Mirror first. The plan is to make Muse Mirror a household name, similar to Amazon, Apple, Google, or Microsoft.
Tonal, the home fitness gym promoted by athletes Serena Williams and LeBron James, is a product that shows where MI can go. But before Toye and his team can become rich, they must build the company to raise capital, market Muse Mirror, expand the team, and generate sales.
My vision is people waking up in the morning and not looking at their mobile phone because their phone is still charging near the bed.
Start with Love
Love and business often don’t mix—like water and oil. The background story is that Toye and his girlfriend (he declined to provide her name) were both students at the University of Rhode Island. While there, they started a tradition of making each other gifts to celebrate important dates, instead of buying things.
Toye would see his girlfriend spending time in front of the mirror daily. Another time-consuming task was reviewing her calendar. She grew up in New Jersey, and would frequently look at her calendar to coordinate the long drive home from Rhode Island. This was the spark that got Toye thinking in 2016. He wanted to use his electrical engineering skills to make something his girlfriend would like.
Toye working on the Muse Mirror.
Toye went to Lowe’s to get some of the required materials. “I went to Lowe’s, bought some 2 x 4s, and was able to get them cut to the dimensions that I measured,” Toye said. “I bought Philips Hue Light bulbs, which could be programmed.” Next was a trip to the electronics store to get electrical wire.
He already owned a Raspberry Pi, a small, single-board computer developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in the UK and Broadcom. A trip to Walmart to buy a television was on the to-do list. Toye needed the electronic “guts” inside. When he arrived home with the new television, his mom saw him disassembling the television’s bezel in the living room to get to the electronics. In her Nigerian accent, she asked, “What are you doing?”
He broke the television and had to go get another one. The second time he was more careful. When he gave the completed Muse Mirror to his girlfriend, she couldn’t believe it. According to Toye, “She screamed and thought it was magic!”
Today, the refined protype is 24” high by 16” wide, and has a slim profile as its stands at attention ready to serve your wishes.
The Pew Research Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan and nonadvocacy group, estimated that over 348,000 Nigerians have immigrated to the United States. In 2016, it was estimated that 59% of Black Nigerian immigrants in America had a bachelor’s degree or higher education—double the share of the overall American population. To quote the hook from K’naan’s song, Immigrants (We get the job done): “Look how far we come. We get the job done.”
Born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, Toye, who has two older sisters, is a first-generation American, whose parents immigrated in their twenties from Nigeria to the United States. “Growing up, my dad instilled in me how valuable hard work is in education,“ Toye stated. “Even before I went to kindergarten, I had to learn many things. I had to rewrite my name a bunch of times and I had to write a bunch of words down, repeatedly.”
“I was brought up to try to be the best,” Toye said, “no matter what I did.” From the time he was a little boy, his parents ingrained in him the professions he should aim for: engineer, doctor, or lawyer. His parents told him to “go out and do as much as you can. Don’t work hard just to get by, work hard to be great.”
He laughs a mischievous laugh, as a mad scientist might while creating his version of Frankenstein.
When asked the question, “At what age did you begin tinkering with technology?” he took a long pause to think and then explained, “I’ve always been a creative. I’m more of a creative, I would say. I just really like to create new things.”
The first product he remembers tinkering with was in middle school, a Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2). “I remember I had a PS2 and I took it apart. But I was able to put it back together.” He laughs a mischievous laugh, as a mad scientist might while creating his version of Frankenstein.
Creativity seems to be in his DNA. “I used to produce music. I used to dance; they were just different ways I could create. I look at technology as a paintbrush to create with.”
Practice Is Necessary
Toye and his team know that starting a business is difficult. They are leveraging their experience to secure resources, market the Muse Mirror, and find talent to add to the team. To date, MI has not raised capital, but the goal is to get funding this year for a seed round.
The Corporate Finance Institute (CFI) states that the odds of receiving funding from Andreessen Horowitz, a top venture capital (VC) firm based in Silicon Valley that has invested in Skype, Twitter, Facebook (now Meta), Airbnb and Stripe, is .7 %, or just 200 startups a year. The firm receives thousands of introductions a year.
One of Toye’s first group projects was working on Teletremor, a wristband device that allowed users to measure the severity of tremors for Parkinson’s patients. He worked on this group project with Dr. Kunal Mankodiya at the University of Rhode Island. His team was one of the 23 finalists, in 2015, at the International Undergraduate Global Health Technologies Design Competition at Rice University in Houston.
URI engineering professor Kunal Mankodiya (center) with students (l-r) Trevor Bernier, Joseph Tudino, Akintoye Onikoyi and Tanya Wang show o! their smart wristband for monitoring patients with Parkinson’s disease. Photo by Nora Lewis.
Last October 2021, The RI Hub sponsored the Calamari Tank competition, Rhode Island’s version of Shark Tank. “That was one of the first times that I pitched the Muse Mirror in a public setting to other people.” Toye and his MI coworker Larry Adigun won the competition and met a number of people—there was no equity investment, only bragging rights and recognition. The team is in the process of following up with potential investors they met that day.
Toye has good things to say about RI Hub. “One of the great tools that Rhode Island has is RI Hub, when it comes to entrepreneurship. I’m involved in one of their mentoring programs called Venture Mentoring Services (VMS), where they partner you up with different mentors in the state. It’s a great resource.”
When Toye was employed at Rite-Solutions, he was involved in training products and AR (augmented reality). He wanted to create AR training for fire and police departments. In 2021, Toye participated in a competition sponsored by Resight, an Israeli company that has an AR product that "harnesses artificial intelligence technology in order to allow camera devices to understand their surroundings, enabling developers to build applications for physical spaces.”
Toye tested his AR simulator to fight fires. That application was a way for people to train to fight fires without putting them in harm’s way. As in previous competitions, he participated for the recognition.
I see the Muse Mirror being a product in most people’s homes. I see it being a part of our lifestyle.
The Muse Mirror will launch on March 4th on their website for preorders. For customers who do order, the product is expected to be delivered in June 2022.
The MI team contemplated a Kickstarter campaign but felt launching on their website would open it up to a broader audience, while providing customers with financing options from Affirm and Klarna. The starting price is expected to be $800.
The Muse Mirror will be manufactured in China, with the goal to move manufacturing to Rhode Island. “We are in talks with some local companies that want to help us make that happen,” Toye said.
“We have bigger aspirations for the future.” Toye says, “I see the Muse Mirror being a product in most people’s homes. I see it being a part of our lifestyle.” For example, one day, utilizing AR and VR (virtual reality) technology, the Muse Mirror will enable people to monitor their skin health throughout the day and recommend specific products.