'Shark Tank' Casting Team Searches for Harvard Entrepreneurs

In search of budding entrepreneurs, the casting team for ABC’s Emmy-nominated reality television show “Shark Tank” visited Harvard’s Innovation Lab on Friday.

“Shark Tank” presents four “sharks,” multi-millionaire and billionaire business leaders seeking a product worth their investment. On each episode, aspiring entrepreneurs present their pitches to the sharks and negotiate a deal.

The show’s producers have embarked on a nationwide search, which will continue through July, to find innovative entrepreneurs to appear as contestants on the show. The traveling casting team takes notes on the pitches they are presented and sends information to producers in Los Angeles, who make final casting decisions.

In a four-hour time frame, students from across the University came to the lab to pitch their products, which ranged from sanitizing products to cellphone apps.

A good pitch generally includes a compelling product and a captivating personality, according to Shark Tank supervising casting producer Scott Salyers.

“Getting on Shark Tank is a combination of the business product idea and the person,” Salyers said. “It is a TV show, so we want people that are going to be passionate.”

Gordon S. Jones, the managing director of the Innovation Lab, said he saw similar trends in aspiring entrepreneurs who have successful projects or ventures.

“First, you look at the entrepreneur themselves and ask are they willing to take risks or do they prefer to be safe and do they have the skills to take this unique idea forward,” Jones said. “And lastly, are they passionate about it?”

Salyers said he thinks that studying at Harvard will give contestants on the show a leg up, but the quality of the product along with personality are still crucial.

“A lot of it is based on their credibility and their background,” Salyers said. “It’s not going to hurt if you’re in front of the sharks and you say you go to Harvard Business School.”

Harvard is among a number of universities being visited by the casting team, including the University of Southern California and the University of Texas.

“We try to be open to the idea of innovation, so my thought was why not give students a chance to get their ideas out to a national audience,” Jones said.

Olumade Alonge, a student at the Extension School, pitched his new idea to the five members of the casting team.

“Best case scenario would definitely be to get the investment and support from the sharks,” Alonge said. “Not getting a response at all without any feedback would be worse than not moving on.”

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