Five minutes into a conversation with Lacie Leatherman and it’s clear she has had her morning coffee. She’s brimming with energy. It’s also clear that she has no shortage of entrepreneurial enthusiasm and expertise.
Through her company, LML Ventures, she’s created niche clothing and headwear for the outdoors crowd. But her most recent invention, ZipSip, has become the rising star of the Wichita State University innovation ecosystem and can be purchased in Shocker Stores.
ZipSip is an expandable, adjustable drink Koozie that was inspired by a disappointing beer.
“I was at a concert a few years and my date brought me a draft beer. Now I'm sitting there with a cold sweaty Solo cup and a useless beer Koozie that didn’t fit around the cup,” she said.
As Leatherman looked around the arena, she saw that almost everyone had the same kind of beverage with no way to keep it cold.
“Surely this is a problem for somebody else. Why has nobody fixed this?” she asked.
Consequently, ZipSip was born.
The ZipSip looks similar to its ancestor, the Koozie, which fits around standard beer and soda cans to keep them cold. But ZipSip has an adjustable zipper to expand or contract and fit snuggly on a can, bottle or even a Solo cup.
Currently, ZipSips are featured in more than 1,200 stores nationwide and feature more than 1,000 customized and licensed designs.
Learning through LaunchPrep
Although she’s a Kansas State University graduate, Leatherman had heard about and recognized the entrepreneurial programs available through Wichita State. There’s really no part of the ZipSip success story that isn’t dripping with Shocker pride.
Having already worked with the Center for Entrepreneurship’s LaunchPrep program with other LML Ventures products, Leatherman knew what an asset the program’s guidance would be with ZipSip.
“It’s great at making you slow down and take a look at your business instead of being in your business and running it, which I think is so valuable to entrepreneurs,” she said. “It made me take a step back, stop and slow down and think about some of the decisions I was making.”
LaunchPrep helps early-stage companies examine all aspects of their ventures, challenge their strategies, and create an implementation plan to reach critical milestones. The end game is attainability of market validation, funding and accelerated growth.
Leatherman said she appreciated the tight-knit sense of community that came with LaunchPrep.
“The people who are involved are really involved, and I love that. I was able to bounce questions off of peers, and the mentorship was really helpful,” she said.
Mark Torline, director of the Wichita State Center for Entrepreneurship, said ZipSip’s popularity has been because of Leatherman’s commitment to the product’s development.
“What we tend to look at most in the early stages of a business is the team,” Torline said. “Is the founder genuinely committed to dealing with all of the realities and uncertainties of bringing a product to market? In Lacie’s case, it was very clear there was an understanding of what was in front of her, and it was easy to see her desire to tackle the challenge. That commitment alone greatly improved the odds of her having a successful product.”
Additionally, Leatherman also used the Gateway to IP program for guidance on intellectual property and securing patents.
ZipSip’s simple, creative concept is one that’s appealing to sports venues, waterparks and Leatherman’s current largest customer: tractor supply stores. The products can be customized with logos or any kind of art.
A special Shocker-branded ZipSip is also available to purchase at Shocker Stores.
Shocker Hannah Farber, a junior in real estate finance and entrepreneurship, has been part of the ZipSip success story since December 2018 when she started working as Leatherman’s executive assistant. Farber’s duties go beyond the usual duties for someone with that job title.
“I hate even to call her an executive assistant anymore,” Leatherman said. “I'm really keeping her at the top with me because she's seen everything from the beginning. She's at the top running things.”
Working in a small business from the start has been a valuable hands-on learning experience for Farber.
“I think something that is interesting about working for a startup business that most people don't realize is that every day is different,” she said. “Working for an entrepreneur means that you don't know what you are going to do that day and you have to be OK with that. Would I change anything? Heck no. I can't thank Lacie enough for giving me a chance at such a young age. She, as well as the amazing business professors at WSU, have made such an impact on my life and I know the things I have learned from them will help me with whatever I end up doing in the long run.”
As a university that strongly values innovation and ingenuity, Wichita State has several programs available through the Center for Entrepreneurship to assist entrepreneurs in embarking on a new business venture.
“There are a large number of touch points in this ecosystem both here at WSU and in the Wichita community, and I would encourage anyone with a sincere interest in advancing an innovation or an idea to connect with the ecosystem and take advantage of the programs, the mentorship, the support and development opportunities it offers,” Torline said.