Sharks Circle Entrepreneurs in Cambridge

ABC’s Shark Tank is currently in its 5th season… Most of you entrepreneurs have watched every episode since it began and I’m right there with you. Fortunately for me, I got to take it a step further yesterday thanks to the folks at Workbar

ABC’s casting crew came to Boston for the first time (how has it taken this long?) to host an Open Call for entrepreneurs to pitch their companies and products with hopes of being selected for Season 6. 

As I walked up Prospect Street I notice a man and two kids with product in hand; Buoy Bill and two of his three children (the third went to school instead – I’d say this is a valid absentee excuse).  Bill is the founder of Buoy Sports and specifically, as you can see in the pic below, the Buoy Bat, which Bill says is the big seller. Think the old Whiffle Ball bats with the mega sweet spot, but these along with the foam Buoy Ball, are safer and sturdier. 

Buoy Bill and the kids were #110 and still waiting to pitch when I left. Most entrepreneurs I spoke with arrived by 7:00 AM to guarantee themselves a shot at the show. It was a frigid morning so these dedicated business owners had to tough it out on the sidewalk. Scott Salyers, the Supervising Casting Producer, did express his sympathy for them, but also said they’ve had much worse weather at other open calls, including downpours. Either way, a small price to pay to get in front of Mr. Wonderful, right? 

Scott filled me in a bit more on the casting process. Of course, they are a television show so for them the selection process goes beyond just the product. You need to have a good mix of personality / presence and business potential. Imagine watching Shark Tank with stale monotone pitches; it wouldn’t work. Those luckily enough to make it past the open call will be asked to submit a video, similar to the pitch one would give on the show. Scott and his bosses then go through the videos, perform background checks and due diligence to narrow down who makes the show. With over 40,000 applicants last year, odds are slim, but entrepreneurs don’t pay attention to odds! 

I was able to listen in to a few pitches. Be aware, you need to be prepared. While the aspiring business owners aren’t pitching to Cuban, Barbara and Daymond, they are still facing the tough questions. “How much of your own money have you put into this so far?” “How much money are you asking for?” “What are your terms?” If nothing else, the pitchers will have walked away with some great experience.  I will say, from those that I listened in on, they knew their stuff.

Scott told me people came from all over, including someone from Ohio. Buoy Bill drove down from Maine and Jose Figueroa (below left) drove up from New York Wednesday night and searched all over for a hotel room (Marathoners scooped those up long ago). Jose was pitching Restore Block, Rain-X for sneakers – (Daymond John?).  Dave Rosenberg (below right), also out of NY was pitching Kicking The Spectrum, martial arts for kids with special needs, in hopes of implementing a franchising business model. We did have the local presence as well. Eric Ballenger of Clarex, a mental clarity recovery formula, is based in Cambridge and looking to take his product national.


Hoping for some interesting responses I tallied a simple survey, asking all those I spoke with if they had equal offers from all the Sharks, whom would they choose? 100% said “I would try and work a deal to get them all on board.” Really no surprise there.  We’ll have to wait and see if the scenario plays out for one of them. 

Selfishly, I’m hoping one of the several entrepreneurs I spoke with winds up on Season 6, locks down a deal and makes it big. Hopefully, for the Boston startup community as a whole, at least one local business makes it through from the Workbar open call. It may have taken ABC a while to host a casting in Boston, but Scott knew it was a great fit with the amount of talent in the area. Lets hope the New England talent proves him right and Workbar is hosting a celebration event for Buoy Bill a year from now. 

* Be sure to check out the Workbar Facebook page for more pitch and product pics.

Josh Boyle is Director, Community & Marketing at VentureFizz. You can follow him on Twitter @jb_sid.