When Thea Koullias says her product was a dorm room idea, she’s not using a cliché. It started amidst a clutter of tangled cables and wires on the floor of room 106 in Senior House.
“I was running out to my class that I was late to, and I said, you know what, ‘Why can’t my bag just charge my phone?’ Koullias says. “And back at that same floor dorm room, I would sit and sketch logos with my best friend and figure out what the company really was.”
The end result: the 314 Handbag, a luxury Italian-made handbag that can charge an iPhone or any USB-enabled device for up to a month. The handbag, which is part of Koullias’ fashion-tech company Jon Lou, uses ambient lighting to illuminate in dark settings, and comes with an intelligent component that notifies you when your devices are losing power.
“Jon Lou is a fashion tech brand that specializes in integrating technology into accessories,” Koullias says. “We’re using technology in fashion to solve a problem. It has an aesthetic where we’re trying to build something very useful, but at the same time make it sexy and beautiful.”
And it’s not just the inspiration that originated at MIT; the name did, too.
“It’s called the 314 handbag because we wanted a way to give back respect to MIT for helping us build the company,” she says. “We wanted to pay homage to the science and the mathematics behind the Institute and the bag was named after the symbol pi. Pi is very useful, but it also is very scientific and fun.”
Koullias started Jon Lou as a junior, working closely with MIT Sloan, MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, and the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, where she could access fellow entrepreneurs with skillsets in engineering or design. She credits starting the company while still at MIT as an integral part of her success.
“My advice to students thinking about starting their companies while they are still in school is definitely start now,” she says. “It allowed me to not have to worry about failure—and that was very critical early on. Having that backdrop of MIT to know that if I don’t succeed right now, it’s OK.”