Sometimes, the best business ideas are staring you right in the face; you only have to look hard to see them. Susan Walvius and Michelle Marciniak realized that the fabric used in the finest athletic wear would work just as well as bedding and bedsheet materials. These performance athletic gears use fabric that wick moisture and transfer heat, features that could also result in very comfortable bedding materials.
Both fitness fanatics, Walvius was working as head coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of South Carolina, while Marciniak was her assistant coach. In August 2007, these women coaches just finished a long day teaching at a summer basketball camp. As they were resting, Walvius proclaimed that she likes the feel of her comfortable running shorts and thought that the fabric would make excellent bed sheets. Marciniak agreed, and their business SHEEX offering “performance bedding” was born.
As Walvius explained in their website sheex.com,
Five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought of putting our athletes in anything but cotton. But today, elite athletes wear only the latest performance fabrics because of the fabrics’ breathability and softness, as well as their moisture and temperature control. It makes perfect sense to introduce the finest of these fabrics to bedding.”
However, the two women discovered that starting a business entails more than having a brilliant idea. They enlisted the help of South Carolina’s International Business School to finetune their business plan, research their market, and do extensive research and development on their product.
They quit their coaching jobs to focus on their new business, using the strategies in the basketball court into their business. They raised $1 million in financing, and as they describe the process in a CNN article
“The biggest similarity between coaching and what we do now is raising capital,” said Walvius, who took USC’s women roundballers to the Elite Eight for the first time in 2002. She compares raising capital to recruiting players. Instead of selling the school basketball program, they’re selling bedding — heavy on the marketing side — complete with PowerPoint presentations and glossy poster boards.
Today, SHEEX has grown into a multi-million dollar business, with Forbes Magazine named them one of the most powerful women entrepreneurs. Not bad for a business inspired by a pair of shorts.