UT student pitches product, secures deal on ABC’s Shark TankStudent entrepreneur invents NightCap

College students, young adults, and singles of all ages who head out for a drink at a bar tend to worry about having their drinks spiked surreptitiously by a predator.

So what's the solution, other than staying home or never drinking in public?

University of Tampa student Shirah Benarde thinks she has created a product that will help and Shark Tank investor entrepreneur Lori Greiner agrees. 

Shirah, a freshman entrepreneurship student, made her pitch for NightCap on Shark Tank on Feb. 5th along with her brother and business partner, Michael Benarde, a graduate student at Florida State University.

After the Bernardes made their pitch to the panel of Sharks and potential investors, Greiner quickly jumped at the opportunity to take part in their business, offering $60,000 in return for 25% of the company. They accepted.

Greiner loved the idea that NightCap can serve as a drink cover to help prevent yourself from becoming a victim of drink spiking.

The product comes in the form of a scrunchie that can be worn on your wrist or in your hair. The scrunchie has a hidden pocket that holds the drink cover. So at any given time when you’re feeling uncomfortable, you can free the cover from your scrunchie, pull it over your drink cup, and pop in a straw to enjoy your drink with peace of mind. Peace of mind for only $11. 

Shirah, only 16 when she came up with the concept, saw the effects of drink spiking firsthand as she witnessed one of her friends go through the horrors of it. That’s when she decided that she wanted to come up with a solution to protect others from going through a similar experience. 

“I wanted a way for my friends and me to be safe when we stepped foot onto a college campus,” Shirah says. “I thought of NightCap in a dream.”

Waking up, she got right to work putting her vision into action. 

“I shared the idea with my dad, but instead of trying to explain it to him, I used my mom’s pantyhose and a scrunchie in my room to create the first prototype,” Shirah says. “That’s how NightCap was born.”

Since September, the company has produced $68,000 in revenue, $40,000 of that coming from the last six weeks. 

Within one and half years after having this dream, Shirah and her brother stood before the exceptionally successful panel of Sharks to pitch their product on live TV.

“Standing next to my brother in the tank made it better knowing that I wasn’t alone,'' Shirah says. “I was nervous, but once the doors opened, I turned my nerves into my passion for the product. After pitching to the Sharks, I feel that I am capable of anything.”

Shirah has gained not only success in her business, but also a newfound sense of confidence.

“Not only am I referring to a confident mentality, but I feel significantly more educated and enjoy speaking about the subject of business with others,” Shirah says. “Building a business has pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me lessons I would have never learned inside a classroom.”

Shirah and Michael surveyed 100 women, ages 18-25, and found that 75% of them stated that they were afraid of having their drink spiked. According to the Office on Women’s Health, in 2016 there were over 320,000 cases in America including rape and sexual assault related to spiking drinks. However, the exact number of women affected by this yearly is hard to find due to the number of cases that go unreported. 

Knowing the gravity of this issue, Shirah and Michael’s parents, whom they call Mr. and Mrs. Wonderful, helped them create their business.

“My dad and I called a patent attorney. We received a provisional patent and about a year later we secured a utility patent for the product,” Shirah says. Additional funding includes $15,000 from winning pitch competitions and $12,000 from running an Indiegogo Crowdfunding campaign. 

With Greiner jumping on as Shirah and Michael’s third partner, Shirah will continue to focus more on product development and social media while Michael focuses on the day-to-day tasks. Their biggest platform, which has generated most of the sales so far, is their TikTok account that’s mainly run by Shirah. Their TikTok account has a following of over 118,000. 

Since starting, NightCap has won multiple awards, including Florida State University’s InNOLEvation Challenge, Tallahassee Startup Week’s Annual Pitch Competition, FSU’s Turkey Tank, and FSU’s Jim Moran Micro-Grant.

Looking forward, Shirah and Michael hope to see their product customized by bars, liquor companies, women’s clothing brands, and universities.

“I see this product in every college bookstore down the road as well as inside many bars and clubs,” Shirah says. She doesn’t have any specific expectations after pitching their product to the Sharks but is excited to see what doors it’ll open. 

Originally from West Palm Beach, Florida, upon graduating from the University of Tampa in 2024, Shirah hopes to expand NightCap’s product line and invent new unrelated products in the future.

“My dream job after graduating would include being involved in social media and creating content,” Shirah says. “However, I do not know specifically what that will be.”

Shirah says she believes that trying your best and getting your foot out the door and into the real world is sometimes more important than obtaining a certain GPA.

“Teens today are stressed about their work, leaving no time for their mental health (doing what they love or educating themselves on topics they are truly interested in) which I think is the most important of them all.”

For more information, visit the NightCap website.
 

Read more articles by Lauren Wong.

Lauren Wong is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a degree in journalism who is freelancing while she looks for a full-time job. Originally from the Chicago area, she enjoys travel and aspires to be a travel photojournalist. During the summer of 2019, she worked for Premier Travel Media in Chicago and as a correspondent for Input Fort Wayne, another Issue Media group online magazine based in Indiana. She loves spending time outdoors camping, kayaking, and taking pictures.
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