Get to know Student Entrepreneur Program Pitch Competition First Place Winner Kat Samardzja, Founder of Locker Lifestyle

One day at the gym, Kat Samardzja, a graduate of Grand Valley State University, had all of her valuables stolen out of her gym locker. This negative experience ultimately led her to found Locker Lifestyle, a line of products that enables lovers of fitness, travel, and concerts to enjoy their active life without having to worry about the essentials when on-the-go.

As a active student-athlete, Kat saw first-hand that bringing her personal items on-the-go wasn’t as easy as she anticipated. It was difficult to lug around valuables, and lockers weren’t convenient or always safe. With the help of her mother who owned a bridal store, she drafted up the first of her many products, the Wrist Locker, a handy wallet for your list that fits cash, keys, ID, phone, lip balm, and more.

Kat won the first-place prize in the 2019 WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program (SEP) Pitch Competition, which took place in June during the WBENC National Conference & Business Fair in Baltimore. 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 $25k in seed capital.

We interviewed Kat to learn more about her entrepreneurship journey, her advice for other female founders, and what’s next for Locker Lifestyle.

What has the entrepreneurship journey looked like for you so far?

My entrepreneurship journey has been an unpredictable rollercoaster! Before starting Locker Lifestyle, I did not even know what an “entrepreneur” was. My persistence and passion for helping others to live worry-free and excuse-free are what drive me.

What has been the most rewarding part of being a young female entrepreneur?

The most rewarding part of being a young female entrepreneur is the amount of support around me. My parents and mentors have been incredibly supportive from the beginning. I continue to connect with other women in business, like at WBENC, and the network is priceless!

What three traits define you?

I pride myself on being passionate in everything I do, persistent towards my goals, and confident in my ability to grow my business.

Where do you see yourself in one year? How about 5 years?

In one year, I am working towards doubling the number of retailers I am in, as well as attending my first large wholesale show! In five years I hope to have my own office for Locker Lifestyle where my team and I can work/grow together. I also am curating new patentable products that will launch in the near future.

What are you reading or listening to now?

I’m a total podcast geek! My favorite podcasts are Tony Robbins and How I Built This. I like listening when I take my dog for a walk or have a long car ride. The most recent book I read was an I am____. The Untold Story of Success by Klynn Elsbury. She’s a motivational speaker and total girl boss.

What advice would you give to other female founders just starting their business?

My top advice for other female founders is to understand that EVERYTHING is negotiable. Whether you are dealing with developers, manufacturers, or your shipping agent…you can and SHOULD negotiate. Saving little bits here and there will add up over time. It is especially crucial to stay lean in the beginning of your business, but your business’s youth can be used to your advantage to negotiate pricing and costs!

How did you first learn about the WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program?

I first found out about the WBENC Student Entrepreneur Program by googling women in business events. I am SO happy I found this organization because the amount of contacts and incredible women I have met are priceless. Winning the pitch competition was the validation I needed because being a solo founder can be exhausting. I have received so much support since the pitch competition.

How would you describe your experience?

Life-changing. Andrew and Mona coordinated an amazing experience for us students in SEP. We were paired with mentors who are with established businesses so their feedback and insights leading up to and during the competition were some I will never forget. At first, it was overwhelming to be amongst the 5,000-plus crowd at WBENC, but everyone was there to support and connect each other.

What did it feel like getting up in front of an audience and judges to pitch your business?

I have competed in a few business competitions prior to WBENC, but it never gets easier. Having to pitch 2.5 years worth of business in less than 5 minutes is extremely nerve-wracking. I find it advantageous that I am a solo founder so I can talk about every aspect of the business because I have had to learn in order to get myself to this point. I love sharing my story and I am very grateful for the opportunity to share Locker Lifestyle with the group!

What did you learn during the program that will help you grow your business?

During the program, I learned the importance of honing in on my customers and target demographic. My products are so versatile and I can reach many different active groups, but that makes me unfocused at times. By sitting down and outlining my company vision, goals, and what I want my customer to feel is what defined the next step for me in reaching the retailers that will be most successful to partner with.

What’s next for you and your company?

Since WBENC, I have connected with the local Chicago WBDC chapter! I was just recently accepted into their Top Shelf High Volume Retail Growth Program that is seven weeks long. I feel honored to be the youngest participant among such an experienced group of business owners. Locker Lifestyle will be launching in more retailers and we’re working to extend our product line! Also, the company will be pursuing the Women-Owned certification soon.