Rent it, love it, then return it! Burgeoning luxury handbag rental business receives major boost from StartUP FIU

By: Jane Schreier Jones

For many entrepreneurs, a terrific business idea starts because of an incident in their own life.

“About a year ago, I interviewed for an internship at a big company and I was so nervous,” says Tia Plagata, a member of the Spring 2017 graduating class of Florida International University (FIU). “I heard of power dressing so I decided to borrow my friend’s Prada purse to complete my outfit. The effect that handbag had on me and my confidence level was incredible.”

Plagata, who was studying a semester abroad at a business school in France, had met Jordan Roberts, a British student who was working in France. After discussing Plagata’s experience with the temporary use of a luxury handbag, the two conceived the idea of a luxury handbag rental business. When Plagata returned to the U.S., Roberts transferred to FIU. He is scheduled to graduate in December.

Today, Plagata and Roberts are co-partners of Clutch Couture Bags. This innovative company allows women to rent a luxury handbag – such as those by Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Fendi, Chanel, Burberry – through their website for a 4 or 8-day period. With Clutch Couture service, women have access to the perfect bag for a wedding, social event, or just to feel glamourous for a weekend or so.

Clutch Couture Bag is operating in the Miami, Florida area as step one of their plans to expand to other major cities in the United States and around the world.

“We are definitely dreaming big and have gotten enormous help from StartUP FIU,” says Roberts.

StartUP FIU, part of Florida International University (FIU), is a collaborative entrepreneurship hub to help FIU students, faculty, and early-stage startup entrepreneurs create and grow their businesses in South Florida.

“We are helping create and promote an environment of innovation and entrepreneurship at FIU, through the creation of new startups, acceleration of early-stage companies, and commercialization of novel, ground-breaking technologies,” says Emily Gresham, co-founder of StartUP FIU.

Roberts and Plagata became members of Cohort 2 of the Empower Accelerator, StartUP FIU’s comprehensive, no-cost 14-week program to develop scalable traditional and social entrepreneurship ventures. The program provides coaches, skills training, advisors, access to speakers, cutting-edge work space and a wide range of additional resources to first-time as well as more accomplished entrepreneurs.

Classes started in January 2017 for Cohort 2; coincidentally, Clutch Couture Bags fulfilled their first order that same month.

“We didn’t know what to expect from StartUP FIU but happily they knew exactly how to help us,” says Plagata, who just graduated from FIU with a degree in marketing. “They helped us analyze why we were in business and pushed us to talk to potential customers to understand more of what they wanted. StartUP FIU taught us the hard skills and soft skills. What an incredible help this was!”

Roberts adds that StartUP FIU gave him and Plagata expert help in the e-commerce field.

“Plus, we receive valuable input from Joel Gandara of Morro Capital, the mentor that StartUP FIU introduced us to,” says Roberts.. “Joel has taught us so much and we appreciate having such an experienced person to help us.”

Pitch Day takes company to new arena

Members of Cohort #2 had the opportunity to present their ideas at Pitch Day, an event held on the FIU campus on May 9, 2017.

“More than 30 angel investors and venture capitalists were on hand at Pitch Day to consider the presentations from the StartUP FIU entrepreneurs,” says Robert H. Hacker, co-founder and Director of StartUP FIU. “The presentations were on-target, exciting, and done very well. Each entrepreneur also fielded questions from the investors.”

“We used the pitch model that StartUP FIU provided and that was a big help because without it, there would have been key areas we missed in our presentation,” Roberts says.

“Preparing a pitch made us drill down to the basics, to make each word, each statement in our presentation powerful,” adds Plagata.

The pair worked on their pitch for over a month, allowing them to be poised, professional, and persuasive in their presentation. The pair received valuable feedback from the investors on the spot plus the following week, two investor companies contacted Plagata and Roberts for more information.