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Entrepreneurs In Action

Look Back: SwimZip Dives Head First into the Shark Tank

By Kate Hodel | Apr 12, 2018

SwimZip swam to success via Shark Tank

Betsy Johnson + Berry Wanless | Prairie Village, Kansas | Microenterprise

Stylish UV 50+ swimwear for children
As seen on and in: ABC’s Shark Tank, NBC’s Today Show, Target, People, Red Tricycle

We Create KC, our annual report on the state of Kansas City entrepreneurship, is out. This is our fifth report, and this year we are focusing on the six imperatives the community laid out to reach Kansas City's goal of becoming America's most entrepreneurial city:

  • maximizing entrepreneurial support resources
  • telling the story of KC entrepreneurship
  • creating a strong entrepreneurial pipeline
  • building talent
  • engaging the corporate community
  • increasing available startup and growth capital.

To celebrate the release of the report, we're catching up with entrepreneurs who were featured in previous We Create reports. Betsy Johnson, owner of SwimZip, was in year one and it was just announced that SwimZip was selected by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce as a top 10 small business of the year!

Between that news and the onset of spring, now is the perfect time to look back at how Betsy dove 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 mompreneur 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 my 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 they freely pass 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 mompreneurs.

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.  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,” says Betsy. “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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