Like many graduate students, Gwen Sisto SM ’10 worked on a startup while at MIT. Unlike many MIT students, this startup wasn’t in biotech, software, or technology. Sisto’s startup makes weightlifting shoes.
“Whenever I told someone I had a startup they would get excited. When I told them it was shoes they would stop talking to me,” she remembers.
Sisto—an aerospace engineer and Olympic-style weightlifter—and her husband weightlifting coach Ivan Rojas founded Risto Sports in 2008 to serve what they saw as an untapped market, Olympic-style weightlifters.
Sisto and Rojas came up with the idea for Risto Sports while training for the 2008 Olympic trials. “We were training and realized there was really only one brand of weightlifting shoes for the lifters to buy,” she says. “Our initial mission was to be a service to the weightlifting community and bring high-quality shoes.”
Sisto used her deep understanding of weightlifting and engineering to create the best shoes for weightlifters. “I can take my experience in both worlds and try to come up with something more high-tech and more sophisticated,” she says. “It’s an extremely technical sport, so you really need the right equipment.”
This expertise made Risto Sports a favorite among lifters and helped create the shoes’ defining characteristic—a wood heel. Sisto explains that wood doesn’t mean low-tech, “We did a lot of materials testing to find the right wood and all these technical specifications. A lot of thought goes into the product using my engineering background.”
Sisto hopes her technical and personal approach to weightlifting shoes will help to change the industry. “There’s a lot of nepotism and snake oil salesmen in the weightlifting world in products and training. Somebody’s got to change that and who better than a rocket scientist?” she says.
Aside from working as an engineer and trying to change the weightlifting world, Sisto is also working on personal goals—she’s currently training for the 2016 Olympic trials.