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Alumna plunges into the ‘Shark Tank’

Rebecca Rescate

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Rebecca Rescate is quite com­fort­able swim­ming with sharks.

The 2002 North­eastern grad­uate recently reap­peared on ABC’s reality TV show Shark Tank, in which bud­ding entre­pre­neurs pitch their busi­nesses to a group of investors, known as “sharks.” Rescate is the first entre­pre­neur in the show’s his­tory to return to pitch an entirely dif­ferent product; both times, her problem-​​solving prod­ucts have yielded a part­ner­ship with a land-​​borne investor.

“The show helped me realize my full poten­tial as an entre­pre­neur,” said Rescate, a North­eastern alumna who earned a degree in media arts and design, with a minor in busi­ness. “I’ve acquired these skills of mar­keting and branding of con­sumer goods. I know how to launch them, sell them, and run a busi­ness around them, and I can repli­cate that for other businesses.”

Rescate’s entre­pre­neurial journey has taken many twists and turns. Newly mar­ried and fed up with her cat’s litter box stinking up her tiny Man­hattan apart­ment, she devel­oped a training kit that helps felines grad­u­ally tran­si­tion to using the toilet. She launched CitiKitty in 2005 with $20,000 in wed­ding gift money and per­sonal sav­ings; it has since reaped more than $4 mil­lion in sales.

Rescate pitched CitiKitty on Shark Tank in 2011 and secured a part­ner­ship with shark Kevin Har­rington, founder of TVGoods, Inc. and chairman of As Seen On TV, Inc. That suc­cess led her to meet Chris Hindley, the founder of HoodiePillow—a pillow with a stitched-​​in hoodie and easily acces­sible spaces for a smart­phone and a pair of head­phones. Rec­og­nizing the product’s mass market poten­tial, Rescate part­nered with Hindley—a deci­sion that led her to dub her­self “a mini-shark”—and recently returned to Shark Tank to show­case the com­pany. (The episode was filmed in Sep­tember, aired last Friday, and can be viewed at ABC​.com.)

After receiving offers from four sharks, Rescate and Hindley secured a deal with Robert Her­javec, CEO of The Her­javec Group, a leading ITsecu­rity and infra­struc­ture inte­gra­tion firm. “I missed out on you once. I’m not going to do it again,” Her­javec told Rescate on the show. “I think you’re going to make it happen.”

Rescate—now a mother of three living in Pennsylvania—has drawn from her North­eastern expe­ri­ence to build her­self into a suc­cessful entre­pre­neur. To build CitiKitty, she tapped into the graphic design, mar­keting, adver­tising, and accounting skills she learned in the class­room from her pro­fes­sors, whose exper­tise was grounded in real-​​world expe­ri­ence run­ning cam­paigns for adver­tising agencies.

Rescate also cred­ited a co-​​op expe­ri­ence working as a mar­keting intern for a fur­ni­ture com­pany in Wash­ington D.C. “I saw the inner-​​workings of that com­pany, and drawing from that real-​​world expe­ri­ence made my edu­ca­tion that much more powerful.”

Rescate has prac­tical advice for entre­pre­neurial stu­dents, stressing the impor­tance of iden­ti­fying a problem to solve, a market to serve, and why you’re uniquely posi­tioned to serve that market. She also noted that entre­pre­neurs must deter­mine a dollar amount they’re willing to lose in order to make their busi­nesses suc­cessful. “You can’t put your­self in finan­cial jeop­ardy and your own well-​​being on the line to make a product suc­cessful,” she explained. “Iden­tify an amount that if someone took it away tomorrow, you could live with it.”