SAU graduate to pitch idea on 'Shark Tank'

Shoe featuring interchangeable heels won Governor's Cup award

Jessica Haynes is seen making her pitch on the Shark Tank set in this promotional photo released by ABC.

— A graduate of Southern Arkansas University whose idea for a shoe with interchangeable heels won an award in the Donald W. Reynolds Governor's Cup competition will be seen pitching the idea this week on a popular reality television show.

Jessica Haynes' appearance on ABC's Shark Tank is set to air Friday at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Haynes and her class partner won the Innovation Award at the graduate level in the 2011 Arkansas business plan competition after developing the shoe idea, which she came up with after breaking a heel on her favorite pair. The idea focuses on a shoe that uses a sliding mechanism to interchange from a variety of shapes, patterns and colors of heels, allowing for a new one to be locked in if the old one breaks, wears out or isn't the right style for an outfit.

"The heel of your shoe wears out long before the base of your shoe," said the 24-year-old Haynes, who grew up in Magnolia and earned a Master's in Business Administration from SAU. "I thought if I'm having this problem, then millions of other women have to be having this problem too."

After winning the Governor's Cup award, Haynes started JesKa Shoe Company to sell the product. She said she hadn't really intended to pursue it further, but the feedback from judges and co-competitors gave her the confidence that her product had legs.

But getting it off the ground required cash. Enter Shark Tank, where millionaire investors hear pitches from inventors and businesspeople hoping to score funding.

"I knew that I needed a large injection of money into the company to even move forward," Haynes said. "And Shark Tank is one of my favorite shows. So I had this crazy idea to apply."

Haynes and her mother flew to Los Angeles last year to vie for a spot, a process that required her mother camping on the sidewalk outside the studio to save a place in line and then Haynes beating out several hundred other hopefuls that day alone.

There were more rounds to get through — she said 30,000 applicants tried to get on the show last year — after that first test. But Haynes advanced through them all and made it in front of the Sharks in September, though she learned only recently that the appearance actually made it onto an episode and that it will air Friday.

Haynes can't say how she fared before the episode airs. But it's clear she could use any investment offered: Her parents took out a second mortgage to help develop the company and the costs associated with it, such as a $16,000 prototype shoe. Her shoes are now in preproduction.

"It's been a long process," Haynes said. "It's not just me involved in it anymore. It's my grandparents and parents. This is bigger than me, it's bigger than what I want. It's trying to succeed so I can pay them back as well.

"I was excited for the opportunity. But if you've ever watched the show, you know they can be brutal. So it was excitement mixed with fear."