A local sneaker cleaning service cleans up during a boot contest

Rashad Sanders is the founder of Sudsy Soles, which just won $50,000 in an Activation Capital startup contest. (Photos courtesy of Activation Capital)

A local sneaker restoration startup has taken a step up from its usual bootstrapping mode.

Sudsy Soles and founder Rashad Sanders recently won $50,000 after winning Richmond-based Activation Capital’s first-ever minority-led startup development program.

“I’ve been trying to build something for a long time. It feels really good (to win),” said Sanders, 32.

Sudsy Soles, soon to be renamed Drip Fixx, was created seven months ago. It all started as a WordPress site that matched a customer’s worn-out sneakers with sellers who could refurbish them. The restaurateurs individually set the price for their services and pay the company a 20% commission on the fees.

In return, a customer’s sneakers undergo a transformation, which Sanders describes as part science and part art. Excessive yellowing is undone using UV rays, he said, while the colors are repainted to their original hues. Creases can be smoothed out, soles glued back together and oxidation removed.

Sanders came up with the concept during the pandemic, picking up on the fact that many of his friends were frequently looking to get their sneakers cleaned. He contacted a number of restaurant owners across the country and offered to be their go-between.

Although he refused to share the initial investment, he was entirely self-funded. He added: “It was a lot of equity and money.”

Bringing a shoe back to life not only restores a sense of confidence, Sanders said, but can also restore its market value.

“Some of these sneakers can be resold later,” he said. “We had a guy here who had an old pair of (Nike) Rasheed Wallaces made in 2009. We restored them, he was able to get almost $600 for them.”

A native of North Carolina, Sanders studied supply chain and logistics in college and said he was drawn to startups.

“I’ve always been interested in building something. As a child, I wanted to be an inventor,” he said.

After working for a few fledgling companies in New York and Boston, a career change landed Sanders at Snagajob in Richmond in 2020. He now works for Jobble, a digital job platform, while simultaneously operating Sudsy Soles for the moment.

Participants in the Activation Capital startup program.

Sanders was one of 75 entrepreneurs accepted into the eight-week program, which was a collaboration between Activation Capital and Atlanta’s Opportunity Hub. The two organizations developed the pilot program with the goal of elevating minority-led businesses, particularly in the technology sector.

“It was less than 1% of (people of color) participating in the tech entrepreneurship community here, despite their representation in such large numbers in the region,” said Chandra Briggman, president and CEO of Capital Activation.

The 75 participants attended business-related workshops and presentations to enhance their entrepreneurial skills and understanding. The program served as a networking opportunity for participants and connected them with resources.

Towards the end, 10 were selected for a new round of training and field development. There, they competed for a final investment by pitching their business to a panel of judges.

“All of the finalists were strong and have great potential,” Briggman said. “(Sanders) not only had the entrepreneurial IQ to build it, but he was onto an idea that could gain traction.”

Sanders now plans to use the $50,000 to improve her company’s digital presence, focusing on building an improved website.

A new website, he hopes, will help attract a larger customer base and supplier base, the company’s most immediate need. The restaurateurs are checked before having a space on the site.

Activation Capital along with the undisclosed source of the $50,000 will take an undisclosed stake in Sanders’ company. The amount of participation is under negotiation and the transfer of the investment is pending. Briggman said Activation Capital plans to continue working with Sanders, as well as the other finalists.

“It’s not a game for us. We’re really trying to invest in human capital here and in the region,” she said. “We want to bring these people together and introduce them to resources, so that they can continue to build businesses.”

Sanders envisions his business as moving beyond its footwear focus and becoming a luxury goods repair hub. The rebranding to Drip Fixx is part of that strategy, as Sanders aims to help customers restore products such as watches and handbags.

Meanwhile, Activation Capital is considering a second round for its minority business program. Briggman said the hope is to take the lessons learned from the first round and apply them to other underrepresented populations, such as women entrepreneurs or rural startups.

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