Shark Tank Says It Should Really Get to Philadelphia More Often

After three casting calls in Philly this weekend, the show’s supervising casting producer said Philly has been overlooked.

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Shark Tank casting call at XFinity Live! Photo by Fabiola Cineas. 

The critically acclaimed ABC show Shark Tank made its way to Philadelphia this weekend, with an open casting call at XFinity Live! in South Philadelphia and calls at Temple University and The Wharton School.

Shark Tank’s supervising casting producer Scott Salyers says he’s happy they came.

“Sadly when it comes to Philadelphia, we get stuck going to New York,” Salyers said, explaining that it is common for the show, which has stopped in Philadelphia only once before, to push entrepreneurs from New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania to casting events in New York City. Adding, “Our thinking was that it’s only a train or bus ride away.”

A city might make the list for a variety of factors, including population size and number of entrepreneurs. Austin, for example, doesn’t have a sizable population but it’s brimming with new ideas, and making the cut, ultimately, involves a lot of maneuvering through red tape and politics, Salyers said.

When I asked Salyers if he thinks of Philadelphia as an entrepreneurial hub he replied, “I’m learning it to be more so than I thought.”

It was only after urging from Comcast Business that the show’s producers decided to host the open call at XFinity Live! and they couldn’t have done it without Comcast, Salyers said, remarking on the coordinated set-up in the complex, a welcome change from the hotel ballrooms across the country where they usually find themselves listening to pitches.

Beginning as early as noon on Thursday, June 9th, groups of eager local entrepreneurs flocked to the entertainment complex. Their plan was to camp out on the grounds until auditions began the following morning at 9 a.m. People continued to show up until around midnight to stake out their spots, said ABC Television’s director of sales promotion Erin B. Weissman, who encouraged them to go back home.

“This isn’t American Idol,” said Salyers, who said they have a wristband system in place to avoid the look and feel of a forced competitive scene, “We want people to relax, go grab lunch. We don’t want them standing around. They’re already nervous as is.”

ABC was prepared to disburse wristbands to the first 500 people, but stayed until everyone who showed up delivered a pitch. They closed up shop at around 4 p.m. after hearing over 200 pitches, which they say is typical turnout.

While the casting managers wanted to hear all pitches, they had another mission in mind, too.

“We want to find entrepreneurs who are specific to this city. We would love to get companies that are Philly-specific and prideful to be based in Philadelphia,” Salyers said. Adding, “I’m stereotyping, but maybe there’s a water ice company that wants to go global, or maybe Geno’s wants to go national and have cheesesteaks everywhere.” There’s something special about bringing Philadelphia things out on the national stage through business, Salyers said.

In the crowd were budding and established companies looking for exposure and what many of them called, “the experience of a lifetime.”

In her pitch on Friday, Doylsetown native Karen Thompson sought a $75,000 investment for 25 percent of her company, My Wish Wraps, which sells chic, upgraded snuggies with “wish pockets” that hold the wearer’s wishes or intentions for that day.

Hopefuls Kim and Paul Dinati of the South-Jersey-based, Kim’s Barkery, vied for the same deal as Thompson, to expand their bakery that serves up all-natural oatmeal cookies for dogs — and that humans can enjoy, too.

Central High School alumnus and Mt. Airy-raised Howard Bair, who calls himself the “Donald Trump of marketing and advertising,” because he’s going to “make America great again,” said his coupon advertising company, Mad Love Coupons, represents true innovation. Bair is hoping for a deal with the sharks to grow his company, which he says is saving small businesses and trees by eliminating the mass-mailing of coupons and promotions.

Longtime Philadelphia barber Seth Smith developed a product that keeps clipper blades cool during haircuts after seeing so many clients get burned by hot metal. Smith hopes to strike a $100,000  deal with an investor for 10 percent of his business. “It takes pennies to make and dollars to sell,” said Smith who said he’s already made big returns on his investments.

Jillian Theorgood, author of “Overwhelmed to Empowered,” delivered a passionate pitch for her mobile app, “The DELMAR Log,” designed to help families log in medical information to be shared with doctors. Based in Upper Darby, Theorgood created the one dollar mobile app in response to her son Delmar’s medical condition — he was born with congenital heart disease. “We were seeing eight doctors at one time,”  said Theorgood who had a tough time communicating with doctors about medications and family medical history. She added, “We want people to be more empowered at the doctor’s office and not to be so overwhelmed.” Theorgood, who heard about the casting call less than a few days prior, is looking for a shark to take on 10 percent ownership and fund the technical development of the app.

At The Wharton School on Saturday, the momentum was equally high, says assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship, Laura Huang, who tells her students that pitching is really an art rather than a science.

“[Philadelphia] is getting there,” said Huang commenting on the city as an entrepreneurial hub. Adding “[things] are changing, but it is going to take some time.”

Philadelphia magazine will host its own Shark-Tank competition with UnitedHealthcare in August. If you have a product or service that you’d like to share, enter it now through July 15th, 2016 here for a chance to win the prize package valued at more than $30,000.

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