Owners: Zoé Ganch and Mallory Estopinal
The pitch: LSU Student Incubator’s Venture Challenge, 2014
Capital gained: $4,500
Business inception: January 2014
Inspired by their love for designing edgy, trendy styles, and influenced by the ease of social media marketing, LSU architecture majors Zoé Ganch and Mallory Estopinal decided to start their own Instagram shop for laser-cut jewelry nine short months ago. Although designing jewelry began as just a fun hobby, they pitched their business idea, Etch, at the Louisiana Business & Technology Center’s Venture Challenge in April. The $4,500 they won is transforming these designers into the small business owners they dreamed of being.
What lessons did you learn from the judges?
We learned how to step out of our minds for a second, and look back on how we ran Etch. Once we were able to separate our own perception from the perception of the public, we were able to notice the changes that needed to be made.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs on giving a pitch?
Practice, practice, practice. I can’t even count how many times we read our script! We would practice at home, walking to the grocery store, in the airplane on our way to the competition, everywhere! Also make sure you practice with a variety of people. Get others to read your business plan and talking points. Everyone has a different viewpoint and can offer valuable advice.
What didn’t you expect as part of the business development process?
We didn’t expect the incredible connections we’ve made while participating in the competition. We met so many people that really loved the work we did. Aside from the financial gain, that was probably the best part of participating in the Venture Challenge. Networking is such an important part of running a business, and also very rewarding.
What was the biggest weakness you found in your business model?
As designers, we wrote our business plan with very little experience in the details of business and accounting. Our profit margin was definitely a weakness in our business model. Since hearing the judges offer advice about product pricing, we were able to modify our calculations for the fall collection and remember to pay ourselves for the work we do.
What was your biggest barrier to success moving forward?
Like any small business starting out, it was tough to find the finances and the time to complete everything in time for our website launch. With just two of us, it’s a huge juggle trying to balance full-time jobs and a startup business on the side. Now factoring in school, our schedules are a whirlwind of meetings, school projects, markets, and production labor. Although our free time is now minimal, the benefits and gains from starting this business have been completely worth it. We have met so many incredibly talented people locally, nationally, and internationally. It’s pretty inspiring to talk to other people who are trying to bring their creative ideas to life, just like us.
If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
The judges believe in numbers, so we needed to show them the numbers while backing up the idea of our business.
What is the next step for your business?
Etch just released the fall collection in August. We will be designing a spring collection while incorporating new materials and techniques.
Would you consider participating in other pitch competitions?
We would definitely participate in another competition. It was such an exhilarating experience that we would love to participate in one again, if not for the money, then definitely for the networking and advice.