Unbreakable: CEO Founder Entrepreneur Innovates With Sheer Genius
You could say Katherine Homuth was born to be an entrepreneur. Growing up outside of Toronto, in middle school she launched an event planning business, followed by a handbag company, then a career counseling firm out of high school.
“Those businesses didn’t turn into much,” Homuth, 27, says modestly.
But it’s the idea she got from her grandmother that is set to go gangbusters now.
“If someone could just invent indestructible pantyhose, then we’d all be rich,” Homuth says her grandmother would say often when she was younger.
So she did. Homuth is the founder and CEO of Sheerly Genius, the world’s first venture into unrunnable, unrippable, unbreakable sheer hose that last 50 wears and will cost $99 a pair. With patent pending, and production starting with a new Indiegogo campaign, product begins shopping later in 2018.
And this is not even her first successful startup.
After graduating from the Chiu School of Business in Canada in 2011, Homuth launched a marketing consulting firm, planning events and conferences.
“That’s where I got the tech bug because all the speakers started in the technology business and I wanted to start my own business, she says.
Her first start up was ShopLocket, that she actually began before graduation. She explains that it started as embeddable online storefronts for small businesses with a few products. She sold that to PCH, a global manufacturing and design company in 2014.
Working in Tel Aviv, London, Hong Kong and San Francisco, Homuth brought startups together for PCH to help get their products online. But she couldn’t quite get her grandmother’s idea out of her head.
In the meantime, she launched Female Funders, an online education platform that supports other women in startup investing. With two cohorts of 100 women in each group, Female Funders succeeded in helping 60 percent of the graduates make investments for startups after the course, with an average investment of $10,000. Some investments were at the $50,000 level, but an additional microfund was from graduates investing $5,000 to create a $25,000 investment.
She sold Female Funders to Highline Beta in 2017. But that was after she already started her indestructible pantyhose idea in January 2017. “There was a six month overlap,” she says.
According to Kimberly Weisul writing in Inc., “In 2013, Babson’s Diana Project reported that companies with female CEOs get only 2.7 percent of venture money, and those with a woman on the founding team get 18 percent of venture deals. According to Crunchbase, the latter number has fallen off a cliff in the past few years–to just 10 percent at the end of 2017’s third quarter.”
Knowing the difficulty of securing funds, making sure the idea is viable is key for innovators, particularly women founders.
For Homuth, there is never a scarcity of ideas.
“That pantyhose idea was the lowest on my list,” Homuth says. “Then I fell down this rabbit hole and started learning about fabrics and knits and textiles and I became sure I could do this to fundamentally change the way things are done,” she says.
“That aha moment came after working with the fabric used in making bullet proof vests.” Homuth then goes into a technical explanation about the measurement of denier, or “the linear density of a fiber commonly measured in units of denier or tex. Traditional units include worsted count, cotton count and yield,” according to Wikipedia.
Just say that the fabric needed to be below 30 denier in order to be sheer, otherwise, the fabric would be thick like opaque tights. “It was strong at 100, but it was white and could not be dyed, was baggy and didn’t stretch.”
Perhaps the most telling anecdote of her ambition story is that she landed on dyeable fabric of 30 denier and was waiting for a sample to be delivered and was so excited she drove hours to meet the FedEx truck with the sample package.
“I knew it was crazy, but if we could do it it would be the most amazing pantyhose ever.” Homuth adds, “It looks and feels like pantyhose, but is insanely strong. Also the fiber is naturally cooling, odor resistant, anti-bacterial and lightweight. It is truly remarkable.”
After a successful kickstarter campaign of $190,000 for the first production run, a new Indigogo campaign is starting soon. She is developing nude colors in addition to black, as well as a footless version.
“I wear them all the time,” says Homuth who has been named one of the Women to Watch in Wearables, one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women and one of Flare’s Sixty Under 30. And yes, her grandmother is especially proud of her, and not at all surprised.
And while skepticism exists among venture capitalists about the success rate for female startups, a new study shows there is no gender difference in the success rate.
“According to data firm Pitchbook, women earned $1.46 billion in VC funding in 2016 (the last year statistics were available). By contrast, male-led companies received $58.2 billion in investments. Yet a new study from researchers at Sweden’s Lulea University of Technology provides more details about the unconscious bias that leads to this large funding gap—and whether VC fears are backed up by facts,” writes John Bonazzo in The Observer.
“These results show no statistically significant differences between women and men who apply for finance,” the researchers wrote. “None of the beliefs VCs expressed about female versus male entrepreneurs could be backed up by data related to how ventures actually performed,” Bonazzo writes.
Homuth’s own ambition was born from a need to have a more affluent life. Growing up, Homuth says her father was a banker and her mother was a school bus driver and money was tight in her family.
“My parents were worried about money and going on a school trip or going to the movies, I could see the stress. I didn’t bring the school photos home so my parents didn’t feel they had to buy them,” she says.
“I didn’t want to have that in my life,” she says.
Homuth offers advice to anyone starting out with an idea, no matter how old she is:
Find your expertise. “I knew no one would take me seriously when I started out at 16 and 17, so I picked an area where people trusted teens—social media– and people looked at me as an expert. And I went from there.”
It’s about exceeding expectations. “Get your foot in the door, push yourself through the door, maintain positive relationship and keep climbing the ladder.”
See your life as different levels. “I move up a level and up my game and no one can take that away from you.”
Keep pushing. “You may have twice as many failed ideas and businesses as successful ones.”
She has done all those things and has many more ideas up her sleeve. She is also passionate about helping other female entrepreneurs and to encourage investment in female founders and their startups. Homuth adds, ‘Trying to pitch a male investor about pantyhose is a hard conversation.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com