GET TO KNOW WBENC STUDENT ENTREPRENEUR PROGRAM PITCH COMPETITION WINNER DANYA SHERMAN of KNONAP
Even with the elevated awareness of sexual harassment and assault in the #MeToo era, the statistics on sexual violence are still stunning and sobering. One in three women and one in 33 men experience some sort of sexual violence in their lifetime, and one in 13 college-aged individuals suspect having had a drink laced with a date rape drug. Refusing to be another statistic, student entrepreneur Danya Sherman decided to do something about it.
Danya is founder and CEO of KnoNap, which has created a cocktail napkin capable of testing for specific date rape drug presence. Essentially, a person can place a few drops of their drink on the napkin to test for drug presence. If the color changes in the saturated area of the napkin, that indicates the presence of a rape-drug. But KnoNap is more than just a napkin company. The company also partners with universities, Title IX offices, and police departments to ensure there is proper education and advocacy against the issue of drug-facilitated assault.
Danya was the first place winner in the 2018 WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program (SEP) Pitch Competition, which took place in June during the WBENC National Conference & Business Fair in Detroit, Michigan. As the premier startup program for collegiate female founders, SEP fosters growth for the next generation of women-owned businesses through a tailored entrepreneurial curriculum, mentorship, and a pitch competition, where students compete for $20k in seed capital. Danya wowed the judges with her innovative product and inspiring pitch, taking first place out of a group of 22 incredible female founders
We interviewed Danya to learn more about her entrepreneurship journey, her advice for other female founders, and what’s next for KnoNap.
What has the entrepreneurship journey looked like for you so far?
I began my entrepreneurial journey with KnoNap at the George Washington University where I received seed funding in GW’s New Venture competition and Pitch George competition. I was also accepted as a fellow in Halcyon Incubator’s 7th cohort, Future Founders fellowship program, and a Kairos fellow. I have been fortunate to surround myself with passionate individuals that are morally aligned with KnoNap’s core mission of empowerment. I was honored this past year with Washington Life’s 2017 Tech 25 Innovators and Disruptors and Toyota’s 2018 Mother of Invention.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a young female entrepreneur?
The most rewarding part of being a young female entrepreneur has been the community and network I have been able to cultivate. I was honored to have worked on my company during the growth of the #MeToo Movement and saw the strength of my peers, friends, and individuals internationally who shared their experiences with sexual violence. I find it incredibly rewarding and motivating to work towards creating lasting, sustainable, social change.
What three traits define you?
Curiosity, tenacity, compassionate.
Where do you see yourself in one year? How about 5 years?
In one year, I see myself traveling cross-country facilitating partnerships with social institutions for KnoNap. In five years, I see myself traveling internationally creating partnerships with corporations to promote an international conversation and championing against sexual violence and drug facilitated assault.
What are you reading or listening to now?
I am taking summer classes to complete my undergraduate degree of International Affairs and Security Policy from the George Washington University. I am currently reading John Mearsheimer’s book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. I have found that my degree, specifically the Security Policy concentration, has taught me to think critically and learn from great world leaders of international militaries and movements throughout history.
What advice would you give to other female founders just starting their business?
Watch Simon Sinek’s Start Your Why Ted Talk. I always start off by asking founders, “Why are you starting this company? Why are you passionate about the issue? Why are YOU the one to lead the way?” One of my mentors, Micha Weinblatt, told me to listen to Sinek’s Ted Talk and since watching it, I have strived to lead KnoNap with intent and always with the ‘why’ of my company, not the ‘what.’
How did you first learn about the WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program?
I first learned about the WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program after I was approached by Andrew Gaeckle following my pitch at the national level of Entrepreneur Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards competition, by which I was representing Washington, DC. Andrew spoke about WBENC SEP program and I was very excited to hear about the program’s support of female entrepreneurship and innovation.
How would you describe your experience?
The WBENC conference was an amazing experience to network with fellow entrepreneurs and corporations that are actively seeking diverse suppliers. My corporate mentors through Toyota, Chuck Hendrix, Stephanie Burton, and Adrina Walker, and WBE mentor Annette Walter, truly made my experience one I will not forget by supporting me through the entire week with pitch practice, introductions to key potential buyers, and by serving as a friendly ear throughout the week.
What did it feel like getting up in front of an audience and judges to pitch your business?
I am always excited to pitch KnoNap. I am extremely passionate about the work we do in combating sexual violence. To this end, pitching in front of audiences enables me to share my mission, vision, goals, and call-to-action with those around me.
What did you learn during the program that will help you grow your business?
I met and learned from so many amazing entrepreneurs and supplier diversity representatives. Having the opportunity to network and listen to speakers like Lynn Tilton and Robert Safian was a privilege. One line from Tilton’s talk that stuck out to me was, “Very few people lose if they work to the end.” The conference, and everyone I met during the conference, reassured me that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and strong, specifically among women-owned business leaders!
What’s next for you and KnoNap?
KnoNap is launching a Kickstarter in fall 2018 that will be internationally accessible. We are so excited to showcase the progress and hard work we have been executing to deliver a discreet, gender-inclusive, portable empowerment tool! More information on our upcoming campaign is accessible on our Facebook page @KnoNap and can be made accessible by joining our newsletter at www.knonap.com.