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 IT security 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.”