by Patricia Sellers
New-product innovation tends to be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
Here's that 1% that led to the creation of a hot little company called Sheex: One afternoon in the summer of 2007, Susan Walvius, then the head women's basketball coach at the University of South Carolina, was at practice and wearing a pair of over-sized, super-soft, performance-fabric shorts. "I'd love to have bedsheets made out of this stuff," Walvius said to Michelle Marciniak, her assistant coach.
"Let's do it," Marciniak replied.
The 99% perspiration: These two athletes took their idea--"performance bedding," if you can fathom that--and ran with it.
They lined up R&D help from the Darla Moore School of Business at USC.
They figured out how to apply to bedsheets the moisture-wicking and heat-transfer technology that Nike (NKE) and Under Armour (UA) use to make athletic clothing--and patented the technology for sheets and blankets.
They quit coaching last year. They raised $1 million from friends and family, picked a name, Sheex, and after hustling far and wide to find a manufacturer that could produce the high-tech fabric in the form of sheets and pillows, they contracted with a factory in California.
They started selling Sheex online in April. The tagline: "Sleep Better. Play Better." It appeals to professional athletes, weekend warriors, and--though Walvius and Marciniak would never say it--menopausal women.
In September, Fortune selected this duo to be among 10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs--a new program that we recently launched with American Express (AXP). The Sheex founders and nine other honorees attended the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. There, Walvius, 45, and Marciniak, 36, appeared on an entrepreneurs panel along with SBA Administrator Karen Mills and Gilt Groupe CEO Susan Lyne.
Ever since, they have ferociously worked the network of MPWomen Summit participants--meeting with Allen & Co. investment banker Nancy Peretsman, Jones Apparel Group (JNY) COO Cindy DiPietrantonio, bank-industry analyst Meredith Whitney, and others. Today, I asked Marciniak how many nights in the past two months she and Walvius have been back home in South Carolina. "Three nights since September," she replied. "Six total since June."
They're constantly on the road, running their business from planes, trains, automobiles, and even buses. Constant hustle. Two weeks ago, in a meeting with Heidi Ueberroth, the NBA's head of global marketing partnerships, the Sheex women struck a game-changing deal to distribute their products in the NBA's flagship store in midtown Manhattan. That could lead to distribution on the NBA and WNBA websites and team sites and stores as well.
Full disclosure: I first met Walvius and Marciniak in July at the LPGA U.S. Open in Pennsylvania--and learned that Marciniak went to my high school, Allentown Central Catholic, where she was the top-ranked high school player in the nation. They called her "Spinderella" back then. She went on to play for the NCAA champion Lady Vols at the University of Tennessee, where she was MVP. I've come to know Marciniak and Walvius fairly well and have given them a few leads that have helped them with their business. It's important to acknowledge that, but it shouldn't detract from their achievement.
Here they are on video talking about their hustle to build Sheex--though as long as they're using their own product, I guess you'll never see them sweat.
P.S. Another window into Marciniak's raw ambition is a 1998 cover story in Sports Illustrated about her relationship with her former coach at the University of Tennessee, Pat Summitt--who today has more career wins than any other coach, woman or man, in NCAA basketball history.
by Patricia Sellers
Gerry Laybourne likes to stake out new ground.
As a cable-TV pioneer in the '80s, she built Nickelodeon for Viacom (VIAB).
Later, she founded Oxygen Media to fill a female void in media.
In the past two years since she sold Oxygen to NBC Universal (GE) for nearly $1 billion, Laybourne has been advising a few small businesses and serving on boards--Symantec (SYMC), Electronic Arts (ERTS), and, pending her nomination, MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 30, 2009 12:16 PM ET
Goldman Sachs' (GS) top women execs hosted a breakfast this morning for the 32 mentees who are participating in this year's Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Dina Powell, Goldman's managing director who heads corporate outreach, was front and center -- appropriately since this mentoring program was her idea. Back in 2005, when she was an assistant Secretary of State working for Condoleezza Rice, she and I hatched MOREPatricia Sellers - May 20, 2009 12:42 PM ET
I've shared pictures and videos and stories of Warren Buffett in action at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit--his idea of "heaven," he told the 350 women who gathered in California in early October. But there was much ado beyond Buffett at our 10th Summit, which drew, despite the market mayhem, a lineup of leaders that reflected our theme, "Extraordinary Talent." Here are a few glimpses of the talent on MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 28, 2008 3:05 PM ET
Where did America's richest man and one of Wall Street's most powerful CEOs meet face to face for the first time after their $5 billion deal? The Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, a three-day, invitation-only gathering of the world's most prominent women leaders.
So who let the guys in? Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) and Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO Lloyd Blankfein were two of just three men invited this year; MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 16, 2008 3:16 PM ET
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