A Look Back: SwimZip Dives Head First into the Shark Tank
Betsy Johnson, owner of SwimZip, was featured in our first We Create KC report, our annual look at the state of Kansas City entrepreneurship. Since then, SwimZip was selected by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce as a top 10 small business of 2018, so we decided to take a look back at how Betsy dived headlong into starting a business.
It’s 2003. Topeka High School student Betsy Wanless signs up for Youth Entrepreneurs, a yearlong elective that will teach her, among many other things, how to valuate a business, write a business plan and pitch it to potential investors.
Flash forward to 2014. Betsy (now Johnson) has survived skin cancer, started a line of UV 50+ protective swimwear for kids and stands with her brother and co-founder Berry Wanless on the biggest business stage in the world to pitch her business to four of the most recognized entrepreneurs.
Little did she know back in 2003, but her experience in Youth Entrepreneurs was about her to land a shark of a deal on ABC’s "Shark Tank."
Johnson is co-founder and president of SwimZip, the stylish go-to brand for sun protective clothing, sun hats, rash guards and swimwear for mostly children. The self-titled "mom-preneur" created the company in early 2010.
In the summer of 2013, Betsy and Berry flew to Los Angeles to pitch the business to five "sharks": Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary. The total pitch took about two hours and aired six months later on Jan. 24, 2014. America watched as QVC queen Greiner offered $60,000 for 20 percent equity of the company.
Since the SwimZip episode aired on "Shark Tank," business has exploded for Betsy and Berry. In just two days after the show aired, their sales nearly surpassed what they had made the previous year. They’ve used their (pardon the pun) exposure to cannonball their brand in brick-and-mortar and online stores, high-end hotels, boutiques, blogs and across social media.
SwimZip doesn’t tread water and freely passes the buoy to other businesses. A quick scroll through SwimZip’s Facebook page will show you how dedicated Betsy is to sharing her light with both complementary brands and other "mom-preneurs."
Betsy currently serves the organization that sparked her inner entrepreneur as a member of the Youth Entrepreneurs Kansas City Advisory Council.
“It was so nice to have the support of Youth Entrepreneurs when I moved back to Kansas," Betsy says. "They provided me with a strong network of people to chat with and have the support with and also connected me to many successful entrepreneurs who I would have only dreamed about meeting. Having them as a support network and huge advocate of SwimZip has been extremely beneficial.”
Youth Entrepreneurs currently has programs in eight greater Kansas City metro schools. Statewide, there are more than 1,100 students and 12,000 alumni.
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