By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
Spokane entrepreneur Brooke Martin didn't get a bite from any of the "Shark Tank" investors when she made a pitch to them last year, but she's just fine with that.
"It was so intense," Martin said of her experience on the ABC show, which aired Friday night. "I think you can learn so much more from failure, so to speak, than success."
The 15-year-old invented the iCPooch, a dog treat dispensing device that can be controlled by a smartphone app, for an eighth-grade school project. A phone or tablet also can be mounted on the device so animal owners can see and speak to their pets when they are not home.
She was 14 when she made her pitch in front of the "sharks" in September, only a month after the iCPooch went on sale. The sharks decide whether to invest in a company after listening to pitches by inventors. Martin said they seemed surprised by her age.
"Kevin O'Leary does not go easy on children," she said. "He didn't give me a break because I'm a teenager."
O'Leary was by far the most critical of the sharks. "You're introducing something that looks like a fire hydrant into the kitchen," he said.
iCPooch CEO James Pelland, who made the pitch with Martin, said no dogs that tested the device had mistaken it for a bathroom spot.
Martin said the sharks didn't seem to grasp the concept of the device, with one asking how a dog was supposed to use a keyboard. There is no keyboard involved, and the only thing the dog has to do is scarf up the treat once it is dispensed.
"Maybe that's why they didn't want to invest," she said.
The sharks also raised an eyebrow at the price, which was $149. It has since been lowered to $129.
Shark Robert Herjavec said he worried that the device would be hard to sell. "Not a lot of people are going to have an extra iPad," he said.
O'Leary closed his comments by saying that dogs need their alone time. "I hate this very much," he said.
Martin invented the device because the family's golden retriever, Kayla, whined when left home alone. Now Kayla is a huge fan.
"She'll just lay by the device, even when we're home," she said. "We call it praying to the iCPooch gods."
Just getting on the show was a feat in itself. Martin said more than 50,000 apply every year and only 100 are asked to make a pitch.
Her father, Chris Martin, sent information to the show and got a call on the same day that someone else with the show saw their product online and called to suggest they submit an application. At the time the device wasn't available for purchase yet.
After months of paperwork, Brooke Martin flew in to make the pitch. When she was done, she wasn't allowed to talk about it. Martin said she thought her segment wouldn't be aired but heard otherwise two weeks ago. She, her father and Pelland spent those two weeks redesigning their website and ramping up production in anticipation of a surge in sales after the show aired.
All the components are made locally. Reiff Injection Molding in Spokane makes the plastic parts. Servatron in Spokane Valley makes the circuit boards. Kritter Kookies in Deer Park makes the dog treats that are shipped with the device.
"That was really important to us, to keep it local," Martin said.
She raised $30,000 with a Kickstarter campaign last year and has sold 3,000 units since last July. The iCPooch is available online through Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond and at www.icpooch.com.
The high school sophomore said she never imagined her school project would go this far.
"I was focused on getting an A on the project," she said.