Shark Tank Searches Philly

By Jonathan Takiff The Philadelphia Inquirer

Some of the best pitching won't be happening the next few days at Citizens Bank Park, but rather at the Convention Center and Drexel University, where "Shark Tank" and TechGirlz's entrepreneur camp will respectively be holding court.

Having lucked out before with Philly finds -- the scholarship search app Schooly, Scrub Daddy (smiley-faced sponges), and low-cost home decorating service Zoom Interiors -- the gang from ABC's entrepreneur-focused reality show Shark Tank will stage an "open casting call" Saturday as a feature of the NAACP convention in the Convention Center.

The visit is part of a nationwide tour by Shark Tank producers to bring "more diverse ideas and voices to the show," said Brandon Andrews of event cosponsor ValuesPartnership, which brings foundations, nonprofits, and companies into partnerships with "faith-based, ethnic, and other grassroots influencers."

While looking to diversify, the show does not make it easy. By and large, pitchers who survive the audition are people of some means who have gotten halfway to their goals, with producers and the celebrity investor-judges seemingly liking it that way.

Schooly developer Christopher Gray, an African American student at Drexel, was a year into the launch of his project and had garnered national press when Shark Tank got wind of his scholarship-location service and invited him to audition. The professional investors bought 15 percent of Schooly for $40,000.

At the NAACP Shark Tank Open Casting Call sign-up page, http://valuespartnerships.com/NAACPPhillySharkTank/, you'll find a "Please Note" that "Shark Tank occasionally features entrepreneurs who have a 'good idea,' but the vast majority of entrepreneurs that appear on the show have a strong customer base, revenue, and some level of existing investment."

Coming on the heels of a recent Startup PHL "Call for Ideas" grant to expand its educational mission, TechGirlz opens its fourth annual Tech Entrepreneur Camp at Drexel's ExCITE Center on Monday.

The weeklong program aims to empower middle school-age girls (ages 11 to 15) to become future technology leaders. Only 3 percent of tech start-ups are led by women, according to the Kauffman Foundation.

The camp puts these would-be leaders with seasoned counselors from the Philadelphia business community, including Brendan Lowry of Curalate, Holly Flanagan of Gabriel Investments, Anita Garimella Andrews of RJMetrics, and Ian Leibovici of Boxter, to develop ideas, come up with a prototype, and create a business model.

Then, on Friday, the campers get to pitch their projects in a "Dolphin Pool" to fresh sets of executive ears. including Antoinette Marie-Johnson of AtMedia, Philip Moyer of Safeguard Scientifics, Bob Moul of Artistan Mobile, and the City of Philadelphia manager of entrepreneurial investment, Archna Sahay, plus Fox29 tech contributor/QVC spokeswoman Stephanie Humphrey. This 1 to 2:30 p.m. nail-biter will be carried on the video streaming service Periscope.

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