JBS Students Pitch Swap Shop at M.I.T.


From left to right: Elle Harris ’19, Cary Smith ’19, and Sophia Di Lodovico ’19 at MIT to pitch Swap Shop

Carrie Zhang, Reporter

As students at Burroughs, we may venture into fields such as medicine, theatre, law, or business. Beginning this year and under the guidance of FBLA leaders William Howlett ‘18, Ian Sajjapong ‘18, William Bartnett ‘18, and Alex Martyn ‘18, groups of students participated in the MIT Launch Program, now known as LaunchX, which cultivates youth entrepreneurship. Cary Smith ‘19, Elle Harris ‘19, and Sofia Di Lodovico ‘19 participated in the program and created a company, which is called Swap Shop. On April 2, they received confirmation that they had been selected as finalists for their pitch, which deals with fashion and consumerism; the juniors soon traveled to Boston to make their pitch in front a panel of investors. The World spoke with Lodovico and Smith about their experience with the program and Swap Shop.

The World: Explain what your business is and how you got the idea for it.

Lodovico: On our first meeting, I tried to convince the team to address fashion or consumerism in some way. After a lot of discussions and a couple really bad ideas, we decided we wanted to make something that everyone could understand, unlike some crazy biofuel that is super good for the environment, but only those who made it understand why.

The World: What was the process like? When did you start sending out clothes?

Lodovico: We started out by making our website. Cary the tech goddess did great with that. Meanwhile, we tried to get the highest inventory possible. We went to different schools and held drives, asked neighbors, and even families we babysat for. We also ran a survey to see what else we needed to provide, and many of the interviewees were actually JBS teachers! Then we had to put all of the info and number of clothes organized by age and article type into a spreadsheet to organize all the inventory. Later, we started looking for customers and hand delivered each of them.

The World: When did you discover you were a finalist? How did you feel? When was the pitch at MIT?

Smith: We found out we were finalists on April 2, and they had said they would announce then but not what time. So we were all constantly checking email, Facebook, and Twitter looking for any news. And the email didn’t come until around 10:30 pm, and we were all on a phone call together screaming and crying. It was so exciting, like all of our hard work had paid off. The pitch was on Saturday, April 28th at MIT, so we had a few weeks to revise our pitch and get ready.

The World: Have you ever had a similar opportunity in the past? Will you do it again next year?

Smith: I don’t think any of us had a similar opportunity in the past that was as serious as this was. Creating a business that’s actually functional by the time of a pitch means really long hours and learning new things about how businesses actually work. We’re going to try to continue our business next year, and we will all be running the LaunchX Club through the Business Club next year.

The World: What was pitch weekend like? Walk me through it. What did you do every day? Were you nervous?

Lodovico: Oh boy, we were so nervous, but not until the day of. We got to Boston on Friday, and we were planning on going to the aquarium, but we decided to stay in our hotel and memorize our pitch. We walked through the halls repeating the speech again and again and then we would present it in front of Cary’s mom. At some points, we were truly so exhausted but we had to keep practicing, so we started doing jumping jacks before the pitch to get our energy up. So that day we went to a meeting and got to meet most of the teams. We got to talk to the Puerto Rican team for a while, but we must have talked to the Czech team for a couple hours. We talked about busses, ACT’s, languages, even MICDS and so much more.

The next day we showed up early because they had asked us to be a part of a video for the next year, where they interviewed us! Then we went into the auditorium and sat through what felt like days of pitches, maybe two or three hours. Then after lunch, one team went and it was our turn in the hole, the practice pitch with maybe 6 younger audience members that were supposed to give us advice. We did our 20 jumping jacks (later we found out that the audience loved our workout so much that they requested it to other teams) and started our pitch! They literally said we could do nothing to improve. So we went in front of the five judges and did it! I can’t stress this enough; we were SO energetic.

Everyone’s ideas were wonderful, but they lacked the enthusiasm and provoking pitch. Just to give you a taste we started with “WELCOME TO SWAP SHOP” and then we introduced ourselves, and then Cary says “clothes, everyone is hopefully wearing them, but did you know that the fashion industry is the 2nd biggest polluting industry in the world?” We then answered some questions from the judges, and we were done. Then, the creator of LauchX pulled us over and gave us a couple ideas. She was great; we all loved Laurie. I remember when we were walking up to our seats. A team that had a really great idea said “you guys crushed it,” and I couldn’t stop smiling! After the pitches we all went to the boat party, and when we got back to the hotel we were so tired. We got a pint of ice cream each and watched a movie and went to bed.

The World: Do you have any advice for someone thinking of doing it next year?

Smith: If you come up with an idea you think will work, stick with it and work on it until you’re positive it won’t work. Also, be prepared to fail many, many times in this process before figuring out how things will actually function. You might get into fights as a team, but trust us, it’s all worth the huge time commitment. Another thing from the time standpoint, make sure you are very on top of your deadlines and things like that because it’s way too stressful to be working on a project that’s due at midnight.

The World: Why do you think you were selected as a finalist, as opposed to other Burroughs teams?

Smith: I think that we were really resilient as opposed to other teams. Because there weren’t a lot of meetings to work on the business, we had to use up our free periods and weekends to really get Swap Shop running well.

The World: What’s the next step for your business?

Smith: The next step is to actually get this business off the ground! We’re gathering clothes because you need a lot of inventory for a business like this, and we have to edit the website. We got a lot of good advice and questions we need to address from the judges, so we’ll be having some meetings in the future and see what we can fix.

The World: What was the best part of this entire experience?

Smith: The best part of this experience was seeing what three strong, awesome ladies can do when we set our minds to it. But at the Pitch Event, meeting all the other teams that have been working on their projects for months like us from all around the world was really special. We got to meet some super smart people that were all as dedicated and hardworking as we were and it was awesome.

The World: What was the outcome of it all? How do you feel? What did you learn?

Lodovico: I’m just proud of us. We really worked hard.

The World: What was working with each other like? How did you stay organized?

Lodovico: Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better team. Everyone did their part, and if we needed help, we would ask the others to help out.