Grand Valley grad heads in new direction

Founder sells Locker Lifestyle startup, launches PowerToPitch coaching business.
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Kat Weaver won 22 pitch competitions while leading Locker Lifestyle. Now, she’s helping others hone their business pitches. Courtesy Kat Weaver

Kat (Samardzija) Weaver isn’t one to sit still when she could be building something new.

Weaver founded Locker Lifestyle — an e-commerce retailer that makes and sells products for safely stashing cash, keys, ID and phones — in 2017 while she was a sophomore at Grand Valley State University.

In March, she sold the business to an undisclosed company based in New Jersey.

The Business Journal featured Weaver when she was new in her business journey, then honored her as the 2018 Newsmaker of the Year in the startup category, then reported on her company when it pivoted during the early days of the pandemic to making headbands that face masks could connect onto to ease ear strain.

Her journey to shifting gears entrepreneurially — away from Locker Lifestyle and toward forming her new business, PowerToPitch — started because of her success winning 22 pitch competitions while building Locker Lifestyle and her desire to pay forward that success to others.

A full list of the competitions she’s won is available on her LinkedIn profile, but she said her two favorites were the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs in April 2019 and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) Student Entrepreneur Program pitch contest in June 2019. (The latter led her to WBENC — an “organization of amazing female founders” — which allowed her to become certified as a woman-owned business.)

Weaver attributes her success winning competitions to her tight, engaging and consistent pitch, which she honed over time to hold investors’ attention, clearly communicate a problem and a solution to the problem, and demonstrate how every dollar of the prize money would be spent.

Last year, the Business Journal previewed a workshop she was hosting to help entrepreneurs who wanted to apply for the 2021 $50,000 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. She said the YouTube video from that event went viral, and she was inundated with messages from founders wanting to learn more about successful pitch design.

Often, at pitch competitions, Weaver was the only female in a room full of male entrepreneurs and male judges. She said according to her research, less than 2% of female and underrepresented founders secure capital for their ventures, which meant launching a full-time coaching business out of her “side hustle” was something she believed would help bridge a huge gap in the industry.

“I asked why my (female) founder friends didn’t do (pitch competitions), and they said they felt really intimidated and didn’t understand the process. No wonder, because there was no representation,” she said.

“I am now on a mission with PowerToPitch to help 1,000 female and underrepresented founders take advantage of funding opportunities.”

Overall, she has helped about 1,700 founders to date, though not all of them are female and underrepresented.

Her business offers private coaching and a “Confidence in Capital” course. Typically, she works with startup founders who already have a validated minimum viable product (MVP).

“I help them go from confused and frustrated to then confident and prepared so they can concisely talk about what they do, to take advantage of those funding opportunities and get funded faster,” she said. 

Although she currently is based in Chicagoland, the course is 100% virtual, so she can help founders based anywhere in the U.S., in any industry. 

“The founders get to learn and work in their own time, but get access to a private community, weekly group coaching and a curated list of VCs and grants (so) they can then apply what they’ve been learning through the program and get assistance as they scale,” Weaver said.

“I’ve served all sorts of industries, from tech to bio to CPG, retail, food and beverage — which is really great because no one has really realized that a lot of these pitch standards and the categories are the exact same for every industry.”

She said what’s different about her service is she helps founders “unlock their story” and figure out the foundations of pitch success. Other programs on the market that offer coaching assistance often require founders to travel during a specific period, be in the tech industry, and even give up equity in their business to receive the help they need.

“I don’t require equity to be a part of a program, and it (includes) lifetime access, as well,” she said.

In addition to her direct-to-founder services, Weaver also has done pitch workshops for colleges, universities and organizations such as WBENC.

“This has been my pride and joy, helping founders pitch,” she said. “I’m doing a lot of workshops, but my priority is with PowerToPitch and really making sure that the founders and the course are the best that they can possibly be.”

Weaver also just landed a Chicago:Blend Venture fellowship, which will allow her to go through venture capital education through the University of California-Berkeley while also connecting female and underrepresented founders to the currently white- and male-dominated VC landscape.

More information about PowerToPitch is at powertopitch.com.

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