Three Students Take Their ‘Smart Straw’ to Market and Raise Awareness about Sexual Assault

by Diana Drake

Most 17-year-olds schedule productive summer plans in between occasional beach trips – like working part-time jobs, exploring internships, taking summer-school classes and campus visits, and maybe even attending college summer programs. Fewer teens, however, are meeting with potential manufacturers and flying out to North Carolina to consider collaborating with an agency on a new Kickstarter campaign. This is the reality for Carolina Baigorri and Susana Cappello, both rising high school seniors at Gulliver Schools in Pinecrest, Florida, and their friend Victoria Roca, a recent Gulliver grad who is heading to Babson College this fall.

Baigorri, Cappello and Roca are the founders of Wary LLC, a start-up company that invented the Smart Straw, a patent-pending straw that detects the most common date-rape drugs, GHB and Ketamine, found in alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The straw, which they plan to market under the ‘Smart Straws’ trademark, includes two chemical test strips at the end that turn navy blue if they come into contact with substances that are often used for drug-facilitated sexual assault.

A Pendant and Perseverance

Life for these three young women has been nothing short of a whirlwind since a school-based project launched them into the national spotlight this May.

It all began inside their high school business program in the fall of 2016, where as students in an entrepreneurship class, they were asked to get together with a group, identify a problem in society, and come up with an idea to solve it. As three of the only girls in the class, Baigorri, Cappello and Roca decided to form a team and get to work.

They conceived their idea through research and personal insight. “My sister is a rising junior at Northwestern University,” says Cappello, who along with her teammates lives in Miami, Florida. “In 2016 when we began the project, my parents were receiving emails from the school that there were cases of sexual assault involving drugs and alcohol on campus. We thought, ‘There needs to be a product for this problem.’”

Adds Baigorri: “We began researching the statistics, and they’re very high. One in every five college students is drugged or sexually assaulted. Very surprising. We felt that we could help so many people by creating a product to save them from potentially being drugged.”

And so, team Smart Straws was born – but not without some fits and starts. The three women first began developing a plan around the concept of a jewelry pendant that when dipped in drinks would change color when it detected date-rape drugs,. But teachers in Gulliver Prep’s biomedical department advised that the product wasn’t viable. They started over, and pivoted (pivot) to the Smart Straw idea.

The process, they stress, had its challenges. Baigorri, Cappello and Roca moved ahead with revising the business plan, but struggled organizationally to pitch their idea successfully during class (they admit this was in part because they weren’t as prepared for some of their pitches as they could be). Ultimately, they received a “C” on the entrepreneurship project. “Initially within our school community, we did not have support,” says Cappello. “Many of our classmates felt our problem wasn’t relevant compared to the other groups. We weren’t given the opportunity to participate in our school’s business showcase.”

‘Let Go of Expectations’

Rather than give up, however, the team persevered under the guiding hand of their parents, in particular Susana’s dad, Juan Pablo Cappello, a seasoned Miami lawyer and entrepreneur who co-founded Ideame, a capital crowd-sourcing firm based out of several Latin American countries, and who was a partner in, which was sold in 2000 to Banco Santander for more than $500 million U.S. dollars. The senior Cappello has been the team’s greatest champion and mentor. “I have told the girls from the beginning to let go of expectations, to not focus on success and instead focus on the process,” notes Juan Pablo. “First, think of a big problem. Second, think of a simple solution that you can implement. Third, don’t let anyone or anything stop you from actually bringing the solution to market. When they received a “C” in their business class for the Smart Straw idea, I told them to just keep pushing.”

And push they did. Earlier this year, team Smart Straws decided to enter the 19th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. They submitted a three-page business plan that was evaluated by community executives, investors, entrepreneurs and academics. And out of nearly 100 high school team entries, Smart Straws won. Soon after, in May, they became media darlings, with feature articles in Forbes, the Daily Mail and even a video about the frightening statistics around sexual assault that has received 14 million views. “One morning we woke up and there was a story about us on Snapchat,” recalls Susana Cappello. “That was really cool.”

Even cooler, she says, was their recent experience signing a non-disclosure agreement with a manufacturer (a confidential legal agreement between two parties) to build the first Smart Straw prototype. They inked the deal with a vice president of operations who had ignored their emails until they won the Miami Herald contest. Soon after, he called a meeting with the team. “We hope to have a product to show by this fall,” says Cappello.

“We want to release a product as soon as possible,” adds Baigorri, who points out that a group of college students who developed nail polish to detect date-rape drugs in 2014 has yet to bring a product to market. “None of our competitors has released a product yet. We want to have the competitive advantage.” A Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Wary LLC will launch around August, though the team hasn’t yet selected an agency to help them design and implement the online crowd-sourcing strategy.

Wary LLC is still very much in the start-up phase, which means that it has potential to either succeed or fail, depending on factors like how much funding the team can raise, how well the product works, and whether the market will actually embrace it. Juan Pablo, for one, is hopeful. “Just the concept of the Smart Straw has already raised the awareness of the major problem of sexual assault,” he says. “Once the Smart Straw goes to market, the ensuing media coverage will be even more impactful than the product itself. Change is most powerful when people change the way they think.” He adds, “Don’t ever let a “C” slow you down.”

Baigorri, Cappello and Roca, who all plan to study business in college, agree that persistence is the most powerful takeaway from their Smart Straw journey. “We’re focused on making an impact with our product,” they say. “And we’re excited for what is yet to come.”

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Conversation Starters

What are three entrepreneurship lessons that you take away from the Smart Straw story?

Why do you think the Smart Straw idea won the Miami Herald competition and has been covered by high-profile media outlets? What is so compelling about the concept and their story?

Did you know about the problem of drug-facilitated sexual assault before reading this article? Did you know that it was a serious issue on college campuses? Did the story of Wary LLC inform your thinking on this topic at all?

Do you have questions or feedback for Carolina Baigorri, Susana Cappello and Victoria Roca? Let them know in the comments section of this article! They may even respond.

8 comments on “Three Students Take Their ‘Smart Straw’ to Market and Raise Awareness about Sexual Assault

  1. What are three entrepreneurship lessons that you take away from the Smart Straw story?

    They have well followed the personal Brand building process.Right from innovation through to execution there is constand involvement and growth.

    Rather than doing nothing with perfection they seem to believe in doing something even with imperfection.Planning and strategies to raise funds seem to be in place.

    Adaptability of end consumer has been the utmost priority in the entire process of product building.

  2. I feel like the idea of this whole “smart straw” project was genius and creative because not only this is a serious issue but it a common one that happens in certain types of nonviolent. The fact that they stayed with their project even after they got a a “C” on their assignment and kept working till they won and got to produce their product shows you as a person a sense of motivation to yourself and the dedication they had going on inside of them at that point in time.

    • I agree 100%. It shows how strongly these group of girls feel about the situation of sexual assault even though they did not receive the grade that they wanted, and most likely deserved. The amount of diligence they portrayed throughout this circumstance was truly inspiring and necessary.

  3. I read the article “Three Students Take Their ‘Smart Straw’ to Market and Raise Awareness about Sexual Assault” the girls in this article are going to be making a huge difference in date rape. I find this helpful because this could happen to me or someone I know. This product make save many people and help girls or even guys get out of bad situations. This also shows that you should always keep trying because they received a “C” but were in Forbes and many other big news headlines. These girls will make a change in colleges and in everyday lives with just a straw.

  4. It makes me motivated in working hard to invent in something that can change the world. These three girls worked as hard as they could to invent something to help out other people, they didn’t succeed at first, but they kept on pushing to success. That motivates me to never give up and not letting what people have to say affect me. It’s good for me to be already learning personal finance in high school, because these girls have to learn to manage their money and profit for their invention. This article caught my attention, because I am a girl and I need to be careful whenever I go out and maybe one day I could invest in the Smart Straw.

    • I totally agree with you. I find it very surprising they were trying to turn down the smart straw idea. I think that’s it’s an amazing idea. You can never be too careful, and I feel as though for 3 females to invent this is pretty cool. I like your point when you stated “That motivates me to never give up and not letting what people have to say affect me.” Even when they were turned down, and shut out, they kept pushing for greatness. This article is very interesting, and I enjoyed reading about their story with the Smart Straw.

  5. The Smart Straw idea won the Miami Herald competition because like Carolina Baigorri said, their competitors have not released anything like this yet so they had an advantage but their idea would solve a problem that many people needed. Also because the idea itself is very smart . Their story has been covered by high social media outlets because it is something that makes people see problems that are common but not given enough attention to, so social media is able to reach a lot of people at one time. This is a compelling story because the readers see that even though they were rejected, they did not give up and ended up succeeding. So it could inspire people to not give up on something that they believe in.

  6. College drinking remains a grave concern within the school community, as it often contributes to incidents of sexual assault. With one in every five college students experiencing drugging or sexual assault, this issue demands serious attention. The invention of the “smart straw” by Baigorri, Cappello, and Roca has captivated my attention since it is designed to address such issues on university campuses; this innovation holds great promise in ensuring the safety of young adults. The “smart straw” has the potential to instill a sense of security among future generations, not only among university students but also among high school students. By targeting both audiences, we can address the lack of experience and vulnerability that young people face when entering unfamiliar environments.

    A vivid memory from my past reinforces the importance of this invention. On a scorching summer day in Korea, my mother received an international call from my sister, Chloe, who was enrolled in a pre-college program at UCLA before entering her senior year. She answered the call with her usual high-pitch voice: “Hello, my baby, I missed you so much.” However, I could sense the sudden shift in her facial expression and tone. Most of the time, they would be on the call for at least half an hour, but this time, it took only half a minute. My mom stood up as she ended the call and started panicking and finding her passport. I asked her, “What happened?” Then my mom finally took a deep breath and paused to think about what she was going through.

    “Your sister is in the hospital, and someone put sleeping pills inside her drinks.”

    I was in complete shock; I could not imagine who would ever do this to my older sister, but It was found that when Chloe was studying in a cafe and took a short bathroom break, a man placed a pill inside her coffee. That day, my mom and dad immediately went to the United States, and after a few days, they returned with Chloe to Korea. Even after they were back, my parents were worried about my sister, wondering if she would be left with trauma. However, Chloe constantly showed her smile and giggles, ensuring my parents that she was fine, and she explained that it was only a small dosage of sleeping pills. Still, she couldn’t trick me. I noticed in her eyes that she was just pretending to be “okay.” Even after months and years had passed, whenever she went past a cafe or restaurant, she walked further away from them and did not even try to step into one of them. She covered the cup with tissue paper whenever she was drinking coffee or juice. It became a habit for her to constantly cover her drink with a lid or tissue paper if there was no lid. Our family could not imagine what would have happened to my sister if it had been strong drugs such as fentanyl and not a small dosage of sleeping pills.

    While the primary focus of the “smart straw” is university students, I believe it should also cater to high school students. Many high schoolers participate in pre-college programs, often situated in residential universities that grant them free time and the opportunity to explore unfamiliar surroundings. As they lack experience in new environments, high school students can greatly benefit from the added security provided by the “smart straw.” Additionally, statistics from the CDC reveal that a significant percentage of high school students have already experimented with alcohol, making them more likely to engage in similar behaviors during pre-college programs and later in university. By including high school students in the target audience, we can proactively address potential issues and promote a culture of safety at an earlier age. If my sister had possessed a “smart straw” during her unfortunate incident, she wouldn’t have to constantly look over her shoulder while enjoying a cup of coffee or develop the habit of constantly covering up her drinks. Expanding the use of this innovative solution will undoubtedly create a safer environment for all young adults.

    The invention of the “smart straw” represents a significant step towards enhancing the safety of young adults, specifically targeting university students. However, I believe its impact can be amplified by including high school students in the target audience. By addressing the vulnerability and lack of experience these individuals face when venturing into new environments, we can foster a culture of safety from an early age. College drinking poses a serious threat to students’ well-being and can lead to severe consequences. By embracing the “smart straw” and promoting its adoption, we can mitigate the risk of such incidents and provide young adults with a sense of security, ensuring their future experiences are marked by safety and well-being.

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