Going out in college is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, meant for having fun with friends and letting loose for a night. But as a woman in college, I’ve heard, seen, and experienced many issues that arise when going out with drinking involved, like being pestered by predators. After all, most, if not all, college women have taken note of the resources plastered in each women’s restroom in bars, nightclubs, and student centers around campus with different hotlines and health centers for those in need.
In a culture where women are advised to never put their drink down or consume too much alcohol in order to ensure they won’t be exploited, how do college students stop fear for our safety from ruining a night out?
Entrepreneur and CEO Shirah Benarde is one Gen Zer who’s taken a stand to put an end to these fears. When Benarde was 16, her friend in college was a victim of drink-spiking at a bar. The vision for a potential solution came to Bernarde one night shortly after the incident. “A couple weeks [after], I slept on it and basically thought of NightCap in a dream,” she tells Her Campus.
What’s NightCap, you ask? It’s Benarde’s innovative idea to lessen the prevalence of drink-spiking, and it’s swiftly turned into a phenomenon. NightCap is essentially a portable protective cover that consumers can place over the top of their drinks, safeguarding the contents from a potential roofie or spike.
Benarde instantly knew NightCap was going to be a success. “The morning after I thought of it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is gonna save so many lives.’”
As soon as the idea came to Benarde, she worked together with her father and brother to create the NightCap brand. “I created the first prototype out of my mom’s pantyhose and a scrunchie from my room,” she says. “[My dad and I] filed for a patent and found a graphic designer to create a logo and a seamstress to create some prototypes. And then once my brother came home from college for the summer, he saw my prototype and basically dropped everything to work on it with me.” Benarde’s literal dream became a reality when she brought NightCap to market in early 2019.
NightCap caught the attention of so many online. The product blew up on social media, amassing over 23 million views in one single TikTok. “TikTok has literally made our business possible,” Benarde says. “I’d say that probably 80% of our sales come from TikTok.”
With the business booming, Benarde decided to take a leap of faith to optimize the full potential of NightCap. “For a couple reasons, I dropped out of school,” she says. Even though she was uncertain, “I felt that I had created something and kind of left it on pause, [with] my brother doing a lot more than me for the business. I wasn’t expressing my creativity or anything, and I had this whole entire business just sitting on the side.”
She adds, “I felt like I could prove people wrong, and I wanted to show them that you don’t need a college degree to be successful.”
Benarde’s decision was also grounded in her already-visible success beyond TikTok: “I had [already] been on Shark Tank before I even went to college,” she tells Her Campus. Benarde appeared on the show’s Season 12, Episode 12 episode, which aired on Feb. 6, 2021.
“We were in there [with the Sharks] for half an hour, but they only air eight minutes of that,” she dishes about her experience on the show. “We were [on] the Covid season, so I had to stay in a hotel for 10 days with my dad and my brother.”
If you’ve seen NightCap live in action, the product can typically be found stored inside a scrunchie, making it easy to pull out and pop over a drink. The brand also comes in a key chain form. “[The] key chain came about because people wanted a product that wasn’t so targeted towards women. My brother ended up thinking of the key chain, and I’d give him all the credit for that one,” Benarde shares. NightCap is also an official distributor of StopTopps, a disposable sticker you can stick right over top of your drink.
Now, Benarde is looking ahead, hoping to expand NightCap into different spheres it can be helpful in. “We’re trying to get into music festivals, and we’re always trying to get into more universities, so we can get these in everyone’s hands,” Benarde says. “[Plus] as many bars and clubs as possible, just because the main goal is to protect people.”
Benarde’s dedication to NightCap stands as a story many young aspiring entrepreneurs can look up to. Her advice to others is that “[you] have to always start somewhere, and you’re never gonna be ready for anything in your life, so you just have to do it.”
Other advice Benarde has? “Talk to a lot of people, talk to everyone,” she says. “The people you’re talking to will know someone or be someone that can help you or guide you in some way.” And don’t get discouraged if you don’t have all the answers. “I’m constantly asking people questions all the time, researching. There’s no pressure to know everything because there’s nobody that actually does. Just [make sure you’re] not putting that pressure on yourself to be like, ‘Oh, I don’t know where to begin,’ because everyone starts differently.”
Benarde herself hopes to inspire people around the world with her story and business. She has plans to continue “growing my personal brand and starting a podcast in order to help other people, and show other young women and men that it’s not impossible.” She continues, “I’m no different than anyone else, and I just want people to know it’s so much easier than you think. It just really starts with your mindset.”