The producers of ABC’s hit business reality show Shark Tank hunt down the most innovative and tenacious entrepreneurs from tens of thousands of applicants each season. Meet 12 of the most promising women under age 30 who’ve pitched on the show. They all share a talent for finding niches of unmet needs and an unabated drive to succeed.
1, 2. Sharon Bui and Kate Steadman, Frill Clothing, both 25
Sharon Bui and partner Kate Steadman fashioned a $100,000 investment from Kevin O’Leary and Barbara Corcoran for 30% of their Raleigh, N.C. company that fills a niche need for matching sorority outfits. Frill Clothing’s sales blasted fourfold after the March 2015 airing. Bui and Steadman received kudos from national sorority organizations, Chi Omega and National Panhellenic Council. They launched Frill in January 2012 during their junior year in college at age 20 out of their own need for matching sorority recruitment outfits.
“My sorority required us to purchase all kinds of outfits and accessories for recruitment,” said Bui. “The outfits didn’t fit, and they totaled almost $500 for just one week. I didn’t even like them or wear them ever again. I found this frustrating especially since I was paying dues for the sorority, groceries and other normal college activities.
“I barely had any money since I was just a broke college student working many part-time jobs to make ends meet. Since this frustrated me, we decided to design and produce sorority recruitment outfits that are affordable and trendy that you can try on before you buy and that you can wear again and again.”
- Ashley Drummonds, ABS Protein Pancakes, 28
This former personal trainer from Tampa, Fla. worked out a deal with Daymond John in a January 2016 episode, Season 7. He invested $120,000 for 42% of her protein pancake mix that she rolled out only two years ago. Ashley Drummonds did nearly a year’s worth of sales in two months after the airing. She’s since been featured on the Home Shopping Network, HSN, Zulily.com, and Shop.com.
“I was in the fitness industry as a personal trainer for seven years and saw a constant problem of people trying to have their ‘ideal body’ but hated dieting and having always to consume chalky protein shakes or cut out their favorite foods,” said Drummonds. “Having gone through the same challenge myself and having a love for breakfast, I wanted to find a way to bring back America’s favorite breakfast food while sticking to their fitness and nutrition goals.”
She added: “With ABS Protein Pancakes you get four delicious pancakes or waffles for the same nutrition as a protein shake. It doesn’t get much better than that. Four pancakes are under 200 calories, 25 grams of protein, under 8 grams net carbs, under 3 grams sugar, all natural, gluten free and non-GMO.
“No more dieting America…eat pancakes. My goal is to show people that they can still enjoy their favorite foods like Chocolate Chip, Vanilla Cake Batter, and Cinnamon Roll (our three flavors of ABS Protein Pancakes) while staying healthy and without any guilt.”
- Kaeya Majmundar, BZbox, 23
Chicago native Kaeya Majmundar created the BZbox, a collapsible storage box that needs no assembly, out of the frustration from helping her friend move out of her dorm after their first year in college. BZbox is more durable than regular cardboard boxes and is made to withstand wear and tear.
“The product evolved into a higher-end home storage product rather than a cardboard box,” said Majmundar. “The product I sell now incorporates the same design but is made of a very durable plastic corrugate inside with a canvas wrapping. It’s ideal for people who don’t have a lot of space in their homes and need compact storage solutions. There are comparable products on the market, but they’re all flimsy and don’t last as long.”
BZbox was still in prototype phase, and Majmunder had yet to start her company when she taped Shark Tank in December 2014. She managed to put it together in time for her airing in May 2014, Season 5. Sales blasted nearly 300% and then fell off a cliff. QVC queen Lori Greiner offered $50,000 for 40% equity, but the deal never materialized. After the “Shark Tank effect” died, Majmundar developed the ZipTank, a basketball jersey that zips at the bottom to convert into a bag.
“I pitched my product as tour merchandise for a few music artists and scored one rapper named Vic Mensa,” Majmundar said. “He was blowing up at the time as he’d just signed a deal with Roc Nation and put out a couple songs with Kanye. It worked. Sales skyrocketed. So now I find myself in the business of developing products and selling via my “Shark Tank effect” method, which is essentially one part celebrity involvement and one part my secret sauce.”
She also sells a variety of silly T-shirts, tank tops, mugs, hats, keychains, smartphone covers and socks on her website, KaeyosInc.com, in case you ever never need a T-shirt of the Donald puckering his lips or one emblazoned “I matter.”
- Tania Green, PMS Bites, 30
Bostonian Tania Green created PMS Bites — chocolate cake balls mixed with herbs that alleviate premenstrual symptoms — in response to her sugar cravings and PMS. Green started her company, Everything Bites, with $2,000 and officially launched in February 2015 with a Kickstarter campaign.
“I started (the business) because I was among the 90% of women who menstruate and experience one or more of the 150 symptoms of PMS,” said Green. “These symptoms can last seven to 10 days out of the month. That’s a significant pain point for women each month, without fail. Sugar is exactly what women crave when we experience these symptoms. But it’s the one thing we shouldn’t eat because sugar exacerbates PMS symptoms. I just wanted a tasty and healthy treat that wouldn’t make me feel worse.”
PMS Bites did not whet any shark appetites in her May 2016 episode, Season 7. However, the appearance increased sales 15 times and attracted inquiries from retailers and online stores.
“The most fun outcome from Shark Tank was receiving a call from Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy,” said Green. “They watched my episode, called me directly two days later, invited me onto Jenny’s radio show Dirty, Sexy, Funny on SiriusXM, and we are in discussion about investment and endorsement. It was surreal to talk with Donnie and hear him say that they both love the product, the name, and couldn’t believe I didn’t get a deal.”
Green told Forbes in May that she’s also developing Diet Bites, Hangover Bites, Insomnia Bites and Menopause Bites, They are scheduled to debut in early 2017.
6, 7. Jess Edelstein and Sarah Ribner, PiperWai, both 27
Jess Edelstein and Sarah Ribner saw sales for their all-natural, charcoal cream deodorant explode after appearing in a December 2015 episode, Season 7. PiperWai had $110,000 sales in the 10 months leading up to Shark Tank. Since the airing, sales have reached a staggering $4 million as of mid July. They’ve received inquiries from 200 new wholesale and retail outlets. It was sold in 40 outlets before the show.
The two best friends, who started the business in 2014, have been business partners since selling lemonade together in fourth grade. Both were still working in their regular day jobs when they secured a $50,000 investment from Barbara Corcoran for 25% of their business. Ribner was also in business school at Columbia Business School through which they won $7,000 in pitch competition.
Edelstein came up with the formula through trial and error after searching for an all-natural deodorant but couldn’t find one that didn’t irritate her skin. They funded the startup costs with a $2,000 from Edelstein’s parents and raised more than $20,000 in a crowdfunding campaign. They initially made the product themselves in small batches of 300 in a rented kitchen and mailed orders from their apartments.
8, 9, 10. Beatrice Fischel-Bock, Madeline Fraser and Lizzie Grover, Homee (formerly ZOOM Interiors), all 25
This trio from Philadelphia launched their millennial-focused virtual interior design service ZOOM Interiors while still in college at George Washington University, where they studied the trade. They made a deal with Barbara Corcoran to invest $100,000 for a third of their business in a May 2015 episode, but both sides decided to call it off.
ZOOM Interiors reached almost $500,000 in revenue after a year with clients in 40 states, nearly all of whom come from referrals, Heavy.com reported. They teamed up with two other co-founders to develop a mobile app, Homee. The app lets you chat with an interior designer about what you want to do with your space at no cost. They propose what you should do and suggest products to buy to achieve the look. You buy the products from them and have everything sent to you. The company earns a commission from selling you the goods, but they guarantee you’re getting the best price.
- Kelsey Duffy, Versakini, 26
Kelsey Duffy first appeared on Shark Tank in 2012 pitching Mix Bikini, which she launched at age 21. She cut a deal with Barbara Corcoran to invest $50,000 for 25% of Mix Bikini. But the website crashed after the airing, and the company lost hundreds of thousands in potential sales. The deal with Corcoran never went through and the company folded shortly after that.
Duffy relaunched in summer 2014 with a line of adjustable swimwear, called Versakini, that can be worn in multiple ways to create different looks.
“You can wear our bikinis and (soon) accessories and clothes this way or that way or mix them or reverse them for a plain/solid look,” said Duffy. “Each outfit is a new creation that does not break the bank to mix up. Your imagination is your only limitation.
“I started Versakini for the sole purpose of bringing new, unheard freedom into the world of fashion. What we are doing is so much bigger than swimwear. I believe that women are struggling with fashion and the effects of social media. We have researched many cases of ORS (outfit-repetition-syndrome), which sounds silly. But the statistics show that the majority of women are guilty of this. They will not be comfortable wearing the same outfit on social media more than a few times. Some girls, no more than once.”
In September 2015, Duffy partnered with Amanda Perna of Project Runway fame, known for mixing prints, and put her in charge of design.
“Since the launch of Versakini by Amanda Perna we are establishing some incredible sales channels,” said Duffy. “Versakini has tapped into new markets including Singapore and Kuwait. We’re currently working on sales channels in Costa Rica, Bermuda, and Colombia.
“Versakini very recently appeared at Miami Swim Week last week, and the press is now starting to write about the shows. We made Cosmopolitan’s top 10 spring trends list for 2017.”
- Lani Lazzari, Simple Sugars, 22
Lani Lazzari, who was prone to eczema outbreaks since she was a baby, created her all-natural skincare line in July 2006 in response to her own needs.
“As a child, I spent countless hours at the dermatologist trying to find something that would work for my sensitive skin, with no results,” said Lazzari. “I got fed up with prescriptions that didn’t work and products that were full of harsh, harmful chemicals. So I decided to do some research and create a product for myself that would be safe for me.
“I created the very first Simple Sugars scrub in my parent’s kitchen, used it on myself, and it completely cleared up my eczema for the first time in my entire life. I knew that there was a need for a product like this for people with sensitive skin and skin conditions like eczema, I realized it was the perfect opportunity to start a business, and Simple Sugars was born.”
Mark Cuban invested $100,000 for 33% equity in Pittsburgh, Penn.-based Simple Sugars in a March 2013 installment, Season 4, when Lazzari was 18 years old. Sales skyrocketed, and Simple Sugars went from being sold in 40 locations to more than 600 including Beauty Brands, Rite Aid, Giant Eagle, Von Maur and Central Market. It recently launched on QVC.
We had $55K in sales when I pitched on Shark Tank,” said Lazzari. “Within 24 hours of appearing on the show, we pulled in $300K in sales, reached $650K within one week of airing, and hit $1 million five weeks later. We finished out 2013 at $2.1 million. To date since our Shark Tank appearance, we have done over $7.5 million.