Got a great idea for a new business and a BU connection? Plan to head over to Agganis Arena on July 28, when the ABC hit reality show Shark Tank comes to town to audition would-be entrepreneurs.
Auditions are open to all alumni, students, faculty, and staff, but you must register online for a 60-second slot to pitch your product or business idea. If you’re lucky, Shark Tank staffers will find your concept worthy of a spot on the show when it resumes taping this fall.
“If they’ve got a business idea or product and they need an investment, why not try out?” says Scott Salyers, the show’s supervising casting producer. “What have they got to lose?”
Unfamiliar with Shark Tank, now entering its seventh season? It features a panel of self-made tycoons, led by Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire businessman Mark Cuban, along with real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, inventor and entrepreneur Lori Greiner, tech innovator Robert Herjavec, branding expert Daymond John, and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary, all expected to return next season. The business “sharks” listen to the fledgling entrepreneurs’ pitches on the show, ask tough questions, then decide whether to use their own cash to fund the proposal in return for a piece of the action. The panelists will often fight one another for an idea they believe in. Those deals may still fall apart in the off-air vetting process, but viewers can see how some investments pay off for both entrepreneur and shark in follow-up segments or on the network’s spinoff show, Beyond the Tank.
Cuban and fellow panelists won’t be at Agganis for the auditions, but the BU hopefuls chosen could wind up pitching their ideas to them on a Hollywood soundstage as early as September. “It’s a pretty fast turnaround,” Salyers says.
“We are excited to be able to offer this opportunity to our alumni, students, faculty, and staff,” says Susan L. Richardson, director of alumni relations. “This seems like a great way to highlight BU’s entrepreneurial people and programs. It would be terrific but hardly surprising to have a BU pitch backed by the sharks.”
The tryouts will be held at Agganis at 10 a.m. on July 28 (doors open at 9) on a first-come, first-served basis, and those pitching must bring photo IDs to verify their BU connection. Teams can have up to four individuals, but at least one member must have a BU affiliation.
Shark Tank, winner of last year’s Outstanding Structured Reality Program Emmy, is expected to resume airing on Friday nights this season, although the network has not publicly confirmed that. The series premiered in August 2009 and is based on a Japanese television series called Dragon’s Den. The show’s executive producers include Mark Burnett, who also helms the reality shows Survivor and The Voice.
Salyers promises that the July auditions won’t be one of those stadium-sized mob scenes seen on American Idol auditions. “That’s the beauty of these college days. It’s a lot more casual, a lot more low-key; it’s not as intense,” he says. “People come in and pitch their idea, and we do a little back-and-forth. ‘Oh, how’d you come up with this? What do you need the money for?’ Stuff like that.”
Richardson says that more than three-dozen individuals or teams have already signed up. It’s possible that registration could close because of time and space limitations, but that’s unlikely, she says. Generally it’s the more the merrier, according to Salyers, and the show is interested in all kinds of business ideas.
“I’m almost like a headhunter for these sharks,” he says. “They’re interested in any business they can make money on. That could be anything from an app to a store that sells funky donuts to a mom who’s created a thing for taking care of the kids. Just because Mark Cuban’s into tech doesn’t mean he’s not interested in investing in a food company.”
No one pitching at Agganis will find out immediately whether they’ll be asked back. Salyers and his team must first do background checks, business checks, patent checks, and trademark checks on the most promising candidates before anyone gets a call to come to L.A.
Salyers offers these tips for those planning to audition:
- Have an elevator pitch. “We ask them to do a one-minute pitch. We’re not timing them, but it should have a beginning, middle, and end,” he says. “‘Hey, here’s the problem I found out there, so I created this solution.’” It’s important for would-be entrepreneurs to convey that they know what they’re talking about. “Research your niche and become an expert on it,” he says.
- Emphasize what’s unique about your pitch. “I’m sure someone else is going to come up with something similar,” Salyers says, so it’s important for people to explain how their idea is different.
- What to wear to the audition? Salyers says a person’s outfit “should reflect who they are and what their business is. If they’re a fisherman and they sell lobster rolls, I don’t expect them to come in a three-piece suit. They can if they want to come in looking professional, but we’re not going to hold it against them if they’ve created a product for carpenters and they come in in their carpenter outfit. We want them to be comfortable.”
- Finally, he warns against entrepreneurs getting too greedy. “The biggest mistake people make is to be unrealistic about the valuation of their company. This is not a game show, this is not a charity. It’s not like you’re going to convince them to give you $10 million if you’ve only got a drawing on a piece of paper. You’ve got to be realistic about what you need. If you have a drawing on a piece of paper and you want to get to a prototype, how much do you need to get to a prototype?”
The Shark Tank auditions for members of the BU community will be held Tuesday, July 28, beginning at 10 a.m. (doors open at 9 a.m.) at Agganis Arena, 925 Commonwealth Ave. To audition, you must register in advance here and bring a BU ID.
Joel Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.