Detroit entrepreneurs pitch to swim in the ‘Shark Tank’
Metro Detroit entrepreneurs bearing everything from a stick that helps you smile to a smartphone app that bulks you up turned out Monday to pitch their businesses for the reality TV show “Shark Tank.”
A total of 150 startup business owners got 90 seconds each to pitch casting agents for the show at the offices of tech training firm Grand Circus Detroit. They were culled from 300 applicants hoping for a spot on the weekly ABC show that features entrepreneurs pitching their businesses to four “shark” investors — veteran business owners such as technology mogul and NBA Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and Daymond John, who launched the successful FUBU clothing line.
If they’re lucky, the business owners can walk away with thousands in new capital and a partner who can set the business up for success. And even if they’re not lucky, exposure on the show can still bring in thousands of dollars in sales and new business.
A similar casting call last year in Detroit put Jess Sanchez-McClary, CEO of Detroit’s McClary Bros. mixing vinegars, on last fall’s season premiere of the show. Even though Sanchez-McClary didn’t get a deal, the business saw a surge of orders and deals with new distributors thanks to the exposure.
“We’re looking for entrepreneurs who care passionately about their business,” said Mindy Zemrak, casing manager for the show. “Passion goes along way, more than sales numbers or market potential.”
The event was arranged by Values Partnerships, Brand Camp University, Grand Circus and Walker’s Legacy. The application process gave Motown entrepreneurs a leg up over the typical casting call which, according to Hajj Flemings of Brand Camp, involves entrepreneurs lining up outside for as long as 24 hours.
“If I was pitching, I’d want to go to this casting call,” Flemings said Monday. “We cover a lot of different stories here. We all get excited about tech but there are a lot of entrepreneurs here that have really great ideas that aren’t an app. This is the DNA of Detroit — we make stuff.”
Entrepreneurs on hand included Matt Loria, 38, “Chief Smile Officer,” pitching his Smile Stick, a plastic pencil-sized device designed to improve the user’s mood and release endorphins in the brain by positioning the mouth into a smile. Bianca Bahri, 28, pitched an expansion of her Fit2Fight Studios gym in Troy. It’s exclusive to women, especially those who’ve been abused or attacked.
Ron Harris, 68, a retired General Mills marketer from Southfield, was on hand to pitch Buddymates, a cup-holder extension that can hold adapters for phones, business papers and even drive-through French fries. Harris said he’s sold about $50,000 worth of Buddymates after investing nearly half a million dollars. He said he hopes to pitch the sharks for $100,000, but “what we really need help with now is marketing.”
Blake Ward and his son, Evan, 17, were pitching BattersBoxx.com, a one-piece artificial turf baseball batter’s box designed to reduce injuries in baseball. The project, which has already sold six installations, is part of helping Evan, a junior at Bloomfield Hills High School, prepare for applying to a college business program with real-world experience. Asked if he was nervous about pitching Evan said, “Yeah, not a lot of sleep last night.”
The casting agents for the show will present all 150 businesses to “Shark Tank” producers back in Los Angeles, and any entrepreneurs selected for the show will tape segments in June or September.
Detroiters Tremaine Grant and Caleb Diaz took their turn pitching an app, Bulk, which is designed to help bodybuilders gain weight. After two years in development, the app launched 10 days ago at http://www.bulk.for6ix.com Their 90-second pitch stretched into several minutes with Zemrak, an encouraging sign.
“I think it went pretty well,” Diaz said. As for how he and Grant will spend the next two weeks waiting to see if they get called out to L.A, he said, “We’ll just keep working.”