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Lisa Morales-Hellebo anxiously scours clothing racks in an upscale department store. She will be meeting with some corporate executives at the new design agency she just started, so she needs to find a professional outfit. This kind of shopping used to be fun. But not now. She’s on the clock; her husband, who works for a major consulting firm, must be relieved from caring for their newborn.
After trying for 15 minutes to get anyone to be helpful—or even acknowledge her presence—she leaves the store empty-handed.
But the aborted shopping spree isn’t a total loss. It gives Morales-Hellebo (A’95), who majored in graphic design, an idea—create a search engine that could serve as a virtual personal shopper. She takes the idea to bed with her night after night. After weeks of waking up her husband with her late-night scribbling sessions, she has her Web site front-end design complete: it’s a user experience that creates outfits—not disparate pieces—based on the user’s body type, style, preferences, price range, and color choices.
She patents her concept and incorporates under the name, Shopsy. In May 2011, Morales-Hellebo demos her product at D.C. Tech Meetup, a local group where budding entrepreneurs meet to share ideas. In front of a crowd of more than 700 people, it’s time to show what Shopsy can do. After selecting a filter of “Items Under $100,” she clicks enter and waits for the algorithms to, hopefully, put together an outfit from a variety of brands and retailers that has the same look as an original $4,300 outfit. After a pause, the screen shows the “look for less” that costs less than $360. The crowd gasps.
“That’s when I got goosebumps,” says Morales-Hellebo.
Not long after Morales-Hellebo was merely another harried new mother trying to rebuild a wardrobe, she releases the beta Web site: shopsy.com. Recognition has followed. Shopsy was recently among a select group of startups accepted into the Boston TechStars program, a renowned startup accelerator that provides mentorships and seed funding from venture capital firms and angel investors.
Morales-Hellebo says Shopsy plans to move out of beta soon, and although shopping for clothes is what launched Shopsy—home decor, items for babies and kids, sporting goods, and toys aren’t far behind.
—Michelle Bova (DC’07)