On April 18, Shark Tank held a open casting call in New York City and hopeful potential contestants flocked to Pier 94 in Midtown Manhattan as early as the afternoon prior to get their spots on line. We got there at 9 am as the entrepreneurs- most on little sleep- waited in anticipation to receive wristbands from the show’s staff. The energy outside was palpable as inventors clutched inventions and shared their stories with fellow businessmen and women vying for a chance to appear on the reality show. ABC told us there were approximately 500 to 600 people in line and that they were able to see all their pitches- 343 to be exact, since some came in groups.
Although some were locals, from Brooklyn, the Bronx and New Jersey, others traveled from as far as West Virginia and Wisconsin. Heavy got exclusive access to interview the entrepreneurs and got the inside scoop on everything from zit cream to a knot-unraveling key chain. Here are the companies we met that we may one day be seeing on the show.
To read all of Heavy’s Shark Tank coverage, click here.
What: The Cozy Bump is an inflatable body pillow that allows pregnant women to lay on their stomachs comfortably and safely.
Who: Logan Zanki, New Jersey
How the Idea Came About: “My wife was pregnant with my first daughter…As you put on additional weight, your lower back starts to hurt you; you cant find a comfortable position to sleep in because you can only sleep on your sides. So when you start to sleep on your sides, your ribs start to become tender and you’re in consistent agony.”
Zanki, who runs the company with his wife Kathleen, told us that he is averaging $65,000 a month in sales on his website and Amazon and enjoying a 39 percent growth rate. “My issue is, I can’t keep the inventory in. I run out of inventory and I don’t have the capital to grow quick enough to keep up with the demand,” he said of his reason for looking to the Sharks as possible investors.
What: No It’s Not is a keychain that takes out knots.
Who: Anthony DeLuccia, Bronx, New York
How the Idea Came About: “My family was beeping the horn. I was rushing out of the house and I tried to put on a sneaker with a knot in it, instead of taking it out. I tripped and smashed my head on the counter. I looked for something to alleviate the problem, and there was nothing that existed for it. I called a lawyer and he said, ‘You’d better do this.'”
A bricklayer in Manhattan, DeLuccia launched last year and has already sold 12,000 units. His business is truly family-run, with his wife, daughter and mother-in-law all lending a hand. “I just want to help the kids and mothers take out knots in their shoes, jogging pants, sneakers, boots…There’s no tool like it,” DeLuccia said.
What: Karma Organic Spa is a line of organic nail polish and nail care products.
Who: Nausil Zaheer, New Jersey
How the Idea Came About: “I was a former waiter and used to get pedicures and hated the smell of the nail salon.”
Right now, he sells them in 40 Whole Foods, but has plans for expansion. And that’s where a partnership with the Sharks could be beneficial. “I want to take this product to 440 Whole Foods, so I need the funding for it. They actually asked me and I turned them down because I don’t have the funding,” Zaheer explained.
What: BacKstop is a portable and inflatable backstop, strike-zone, catcher and umpire.
Who: Tom Rome, New Jersey
How the Idea Came About: “From years of playing wiffle ball, chasing the balls around and arguing balls and strikes with my friends. It really sucked the life out of what is supposed to be so much fun.”
Rome, who is a cameraman for sports television by day, created the first prototype in his garage using PVC pipe. He reached out to a company that makes inflatables with a product video, asking if they could create it. “The tabletop model at the end of the video, what I made out of foam and spray paint, they conceptualized and brought to life,” he said. At the moment, he is taking preorders on the company’s website with a projected delivery date in mid May. As for the future of BacKstop, he mentioned Target, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods as potential retail partners.
What: Glove Stix eliminate odor, moisture and bacteria growth from athletic shoes and gloves.
Who: Krista Woods, Virginia
How the Idea Came About: “Because I have a stinky kid. I have a lacrosse-playing son and spent years trying to get the odor and bacteria out of all of his sweaty gear. It’s such a common problem that everyone who plays a sport deals with. I tried everything for years. Nothing ever worked, so I decided to invent something myself.”
Woods’ husband brought her design to life in their garage, using PVC pipe and paracord. She went on to win The Today Show’s Next Big Thing competition and has already done $200,000 in sales.
Danny Marathon’s Pizza Face Zit Cream
What: Danny Marathon’s Pizza Face Zit Cream is a vegan blend that helps fight acne.
Who: Erin Hughes, Brooklyn, New York
How the Idea Came About: “After having acne for 18 years, I needed a product that didn’t damage my skin, so I formulated it out of things that I couldn’t find in other products, but that I knew would be helpful. So it was just like a tinkering project for several years just for myself.”
Named after her YouTube comedy moniker, Hughes introduced the product three years ago.
What: Build-A-Bow is a bow and bowtie company where you can custom your accessory or plan an event to make them yourself.
Who: Alex Hart-Upendo, Racine, Wisconsin
How the Idea Came About: “This idea came about because I was being bullied in school, a lot. And the reason why is because I tested as gifted and had a higher IQ range than other children in my age group. So they started calling me names like nerd and dork.”
Ten-year-old Hart-Upendo, who is a motivational speaker on bullying, also wrote a book, Bullies, bowties and brilliant Alex.
Shark Tank products: