A West Palm Beach sister and brother, Shirah and Michael Benarde, both graduates of Oxbridge Academy, are scheduled to pitch their product “NightCap” on ABC’s Shark Tank when it airs at 8 p.m. Friday.
NightCap, a drink-spiking prevention scrunchie, can be worn as a hair scrunchie or as a wristband. The cover fits tightly over most glasses and solo cups used in bars, restaurants and at parties, making it much more difficult for a drink to be spiked with tranquilizing “date rape” drugs. There is also a small opening for a straw. The cap is hidden inside the scrunchie.
The NightCap sells for $11.99 for one, and $39.99 for four. With a reusable straw kit, they are $15.99 and $51.99. The cap can also be used to keep sand, dirt and bugs out of a drink.
The Benardes are not allowed to disclose whether Shark Tank investors decided to invest in the company. But they have been busy practicing their pitch, updating their website and increasing inventory. They’re also expecting that demand will pick up once everything is fully open after the pandemic eases.
“I got the idea in a dream,” said Shirah, now 18 and a freshman at the University of Tampa. She was enrolled in an entrepreneurship class at Oxbridge, where she learned about turning an original idea into a business.
Shirah and Michael, 23, a Florida State University graduate who is now a graduate student there, are partners in the enterprise. Their parents are Scott and Mindi Benarde of West Palm Beach.
“We made our pitch, and the rest, the audience will have to see,” Shirah said.
The duo’s application to Shark Tank was quickly approved, and taping was held a few months ago. The siblings have been fans of the show since they were kids.
Said Michael: “I was very confident in what I was going to say going in. I began feeling nervous when I was standing there in front of the double doors, and they open and then the next set of double doors opens. You see Kevin O’Leary looking right at you, then you get nervous, and the lights are there, and the cameras are there. “
Shirah had heard from older friends already in college that drink spiking was a growing problem.
“I talked to my dad about it. Instead of explaining it to him, I got some of my mom’s pantyhose and a scrunchie from my room and created a prototype,” Shirah said.
In the spring of 2019, Shirah and her father met with a patent attorney and contacted a seamstress to make a prototype.
”My brother came home one summer from FSU. He really liked the idea and jumped in it with me,” Shirah said. “It’s his fulltime job.”
“We want to emphasize that the product is not so you put it over your cup and you leave it and go to the bathroom. It is so you don’t have to have your hand over your glass, and you don’t have to be overprotective of your cup,” Shirah said. “It acts as a deterrent, so someone looks at your cup and they say, “’Oh, I shouldn’t mess with her.’ ”
Since launching their NightCap website — nightcapit.com — in September 2019, the siblings have sold more than 10,000 units in all 50 states and more than two dozen countries. All the sales have been through the website.
NightCap is especially popular with college students and their parents. Other buyers include sororities and fraternities, police departments, crisis counselors and women’s groups.
The NightCap has been available only in black, but it will also be introduced in purple, a color representing women’s empowerment.
“People love it, we get messages all the time saying, “thank you for doing this, this happened to me before. I should have had this back then.” We get a lot of good feedback, for the most part,” Shirah said.
Shirah focuses on product development and social media, while Michael manages the day-to-day tasks and outsources everything possible, such as order fulfillment.
Michael said that after spending four years in college, he understood how big a problem drink spiking is and heard it happens a lot.
“There was nothing on the market, at least that has been adopted at scale to address this issue. It happens so much and goes unreported because, who are you going to tell?” he said.
Sales were slow until they discovered TikTok. The social media site that shares videos with millions of users has been NightCap’s primary traffic driver.
Start-up money came from $15,000 in winnings in Florida State Entrepreneur College competitions, an Indiegogo crowdfund campaign that raised $12,275, and about $18,000 from their parents.
“Everything costs more than you think it is going to cost. There are so many things that go into it that you don’t plan. Everything is expensive. You need marketing materials and accounting. A patent is not cheap,” Michael said.
Sedric Simon, the Oxbridge teacher who taught Shirah’s entrepreneurship class, said: “It feels great to know you inspired a student to believe in themselves and to try something and not be afraid of failure.”
“Shirah’s idea for the NightCap was about the fourth idea that she presented to me in the class,” Simon said. “I knew it would do well because I could see how passionate she was about it.”
Shirah said she is starting to think of some more inventions, but for now is focusing on NightCap.
“I have learned that it is important to be educated and be in school, but you will never really understand business unless you are actually hands-on experiencing how it is to fully run one,” she said.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: West Palm brother/sister make Shark Tank pitch Friday night for drink-spike prevention gadget