Swimming with the Sharks: The journey from start-up to deal-making

On the February 21st episode of the famous Shark Tank VC reality show, we recognized a familiar face on the screen- our very own Andrea Sreshta, a Booth student and co-founder of LuminAid,  a solar light that is safe, sustainable and ultra-portable. Not only did Andrea and her partner, Anna Stork, manage to stay afloat with the sharks, but they also attracted offers from all five investors. Shark Tank fans will recognize that this is indeed a feat! We were eager to congratulate Andrea and hear the behind-the-scenes stories.

Bhargavi and Swetha [BS & SK]:  Tell us more about your background and LuminAid’s journey so far.

                   By Swetha Krishnakumar ‘15

                 By Swetha Krishnakumar ‘15

                  and  Bhargavi Srivathsan ‘15

                 and Bhargavi Srivathsan ‘15

Andrea Sreshta [AS]:  At Columbia’s architecture school, Anna and I came up with the idea of LuminAid after hearing  about the Haiti earthquake and the problems on the ground. During  natural disasters, people’s immediate needs typically include food, water and shelter. But we realized that light is also equally critical, especially for safety, so Anna and I designed LuminAid. At the time, I hadn’t really envisioned LuminAid becoming full-time. I continued to take classes, exploring opportunities at Columbia Business School, doing internships, and eventually applying to Chicago Booth and  even doing another summer internship. However, when Anna and I visited Japan that year, using our own LuminAid during an earthquake, we saw its impact  first-hand and understood the true potential of our product. As our business grew rapidly during this time, I moved it up my priority list,  decided not to pursue full-time recruiting and slowed down my Booth program to focus on LuminAid full-time.

                           Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork on Shark Tank

                        Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork on Shark Tank

[BS & SK]:  And this year, you made it to Shark Tank – congratulations! Tell us more about the experience – what was it really like behind the camera?

[AS]:  We actually filmed Shark Tank in June of last year. We didn’t know if our episode would be aired eventually, but we knew we got the deal! The episode obviously only shows part of the diligence and negotiation; the actual filming process took us about an hour. The $200,000 we sought from the sharks was just for one year of our operations. Mark Cuban’s offer made the most sense for us because he gave us an option that could come into play for future products and we were already working on other concepts and prototypes. Mark also seemed comfortable with some level of ambiguity around future products and this made him the best strategic partner for us.

[BS & SK]: That’s wonderful. We are sure with Mr. Cuban in the game, LuminAid can make an even bigger impact. Can you share a story about LuminAid in the field that has personally touched you?

Andrea: Sure, I definitely have one. One NGO customer that wrote back to us said that LuminAid has made it much safer for women in refugee camps, especially in remote areas. It validated the positive impact we believed LuminAid could have as a humanitarian application, beyond disaster situations.

[BS & SK]:  Finally, what advice do you have for Booth students heading into NVC and SNVC?

Andrea:  For students currently working on start-ups, specifically for things like NVC and SNVC (like me), I would really emphasize how important it is to get your venture off the ground and get it tested. Do as much as you can, and even if things don’t work out, you can definitely bring valuable experience to show at the competition and exhibit how serious you are. This will definitely make you stand out.

Finally, for those who are not necessarily thinking about entrepreneurship right now, it is something many consider 2-3 years out of school, so make use of the resources at Booth now and explore part-time opportunities in preparation for that transition. Three to five years of work experience can be good learning for recent MBAs, providing necessary industry knowledge to think about how to do things better and launch new ideas.

The authors are second year Booth students.