Madison-based clothing startup founded by a lawyer wins top ‘Project Pitch It’ prize

Barbara Zabawa. Image courtesy of Project Pitch It.

Any woman who’s gone to buy professional clothing has experienced firsthand the frustration of not having the same number of pockets as their male counterparts.

Entrepreneur Barbara Zabawa has invented a solution to this problem and recently shared her product with the moguls of Project Pitch It.

Zabawa is the founder of Madison-based Pursesuitz Pocketwear, which won this week’s Peg Ann and David Gruber Project Pitch It Award, worth $10,000.

She has invented a patent-pending undergarment with front waist pockets. The pockets are roomy enough to hold everyday essentials like your wallet and keys. A Pursesuitz Pocketwear garment can be easily concealed under a suit or another shirt.

A decade ago, Zabawa, who is a lawyer and clinical assistant professor at UWM, had a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. She was told to leave her bag at her office. As she was going through courthouse security, she was asked for her ID.

“That was in my wallet, which was in my bag back at the office,” said Zabawa. “I barely made it back in time for oral arguments. Meanwhile, my male colleagues sailed right through security because they were wearing suits with functional pockets.”

Her priorities are continuing to test her product on the market as she completes small production runs.

Hartland-based Wearable Technologies, Inc. won the Jerry Jendusa/UWM Lubar Entrepreneurship Award. Founder Deepak Arora took home a $5,000 cash prize, as well as support services including investment guidance and mentoring from UWM’s Lubar Entrepreneurship Center and “BreakthruU.”

Wearable Technologies aims to disrupt the wearable technology market by providing a way to protect loved ones from preventable accidents. After losing his 2-year-old daughter in a tragic accident, Arora began looking at the number of lives lost each day. The company has since developed wearable devices that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect, predict and protect against hazards.

“It runs a myriad of sensors on the device. Your heart rate sensor, your blood oxygen sensor, your GPS tracker. Based on where you are, it can predict hazards,” said Arora.

The company has launched its beta program with 250 users and received $1.9 million in funding thus far. Arora said the company is looking for help with marketing efforts and spreading the word about his technology.

Wearable Technologies was also recognized at BizTimes Media’s 2022 Innovation + Entrepreneurship Forum.

Mt. Pleasant-based entrepreneur Lakesha Davis won the We Energies/DNA Award, which includes a $1,500 cash prize and at least one session of mentoring in marketing from a company leader.

She’s the founder of LovingKindness Homes, which offers safe and affordable housing through its portfolio of rentals. The company serves low-income individuals, those with disabilities, people who were formerly incarcerated and seniors. Davis also helps clients find clothing, food and employment referrals.

Davis shared her journey of overcoming homelessness through counseling and other resources.

“I was able to rise above my situation and I just want to help others do the same,” said Davis. “I am fueled by my life experiences and skills and I know the issues clients are facing.”

The company is looking to expand into licensed care homes and transitional housing.

The next episode of Project Pitch It airs Saturday at 10:30 p.m. on WISN-TV Channel 12 in Milwaukee. BizTimes Media is a media partner for Project Pitch It.

Ashley covers startups, technology and manufacturing for BizTimes. She was previously the managing editor of the News Graphic and Washington County Daily News. In past reporting roles, covering education at The Waukesha Freeman, she received several WNA awards. She is a UWM graduate. In her free time, Ashley enjoys watching independent films, tackling a new recipe in the kitchen and reading a good book.

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