Biology major turned successful entrepreneur


Photo Credit: Lizzy Bonica

Vice Principal and creator of the Hideaway Helper, Tina Bacolas

by Elizabeth Bonica, Staff Writer

The 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre is the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, leaving 32 dead and 17 wounded. All students were evacuated from the campus soon after and seniors ended their year with the grades they had, receiving their diplomas early with no formal celebration of their accomplishments. The events left many in shock and mourning, but for assistant principal Tina Bacolas, a former senior of VA Tech who witnessed the shooting, the event also inspired her to innovate.

Bacolas double-majored in biology and chemistry at VA Tech and was on a path to become a science teacher. But her life changed on the morning of Monday, April 16. Bacolas was only 500 yards away from the shooting, but she luckily walked away from it uninjured.

“This put safety at the front of my mind,” Bacolas said.

Later in the year, she began teaching and joined the School Safety Committee, a teachers’ group that discusses safety solutions for schools. With the VA Tech shooting fresh in everyone’s head, the committee was focused on creating solutions and procedures to ensure student and faculty safety.

“If a shooter can see into the room, they will attempt to get in for about 10 seconds. If they can’t see anything, they will try for around 3-4 seconds,” Bacolas said of her conclusions after researching patterns and behaviors of shooters from several school shootings.

With these unsettling statistics fresh in her mind, Bacolas knew that in the event of an emergency, the windows on classroom doors cannot be left uncovered. Bacoas began to create a product.

At first, Bacolas researched possible products that could be used to cover the window. At first, she researched mini blinds, but decided against them because “you can see through the cracks and they can break easily,” Bacolas said. She knew she needed something  easy to install, durable, cost effective, and opaque. In January 2013, she finally created the Hideaway Helper, a fire-retardant blackout curtain hung over classroom doors to prevent shooters from seeing inside.

Though Bacolas had no experience in business, she explained that with the help of builders and an attorney, the whole process was made easier.

“I didn’t do business in college,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”

After first solidifying an idea in late January, she began the patent process in March. Bacolas filed for a design patent rather than a utility patent because “a shade to cover a window is not new, but I wanted to protect my design.” The Hideaway Helper was patent-pending by the time it went on sale in late March, and the patent process was completed a year later. Because she was a teacher herself, Bacolas began by pitching her product to teachers and superintendents, but she found that this method of selling herself wasn’t getting her a lot of traction. So in late November 2013, there was a large teacher’s convention in New Jersey, and she rented a booth for all three days of the convention for $4,000 to advertise her product.

“CNN was there, and they interviewed me about my product, and it was aired on the news,” Bacolas said. “People loved the story behind it.”

The $4,000 spent was well worth it in the end. Since Bacolas first had the idea over 4 years ago, The Hideaway Helper now grosses an average of $400,000 a year, and it has been sold in 2,800 schools in 48 states and the countries of Canada and Malaysia.

The Hideaway Helper retails for about $14 and costs $10 to make.  “I didn’t have the intention of making money from this, I just wanted a solution,” she said.

For more information on the Hideaway Helper, visit