At ‘Shark Tank’ audition in Portland, hundreds pitch ideas from brilliant to bizarre
More than 300 budding entrepreneurs turn out at a casting call to see who may be bait for the reality show's investors.
Head casting producer Scott Salyers greeted the first group of “Shark Tank” hopefuls and went over the ground rules at Wednesday’s open casting call in Portland for the popular ABC reality show.
“If part of your pitch is ‘My product speaks for itself,’ you’re probably not going to get on the show,” he said. “We want you to convince us with your words.”
Portland resident Mike Roylos hopes that’s what he did.
The former owner of the Spartan Grill restaurant on Monument Square is now refining his invention, the Sidewalk Buttler, a pole-mounted receptacle for cigarette butts.
“I always ask, is there a better way to do this?” Roylos said. “I’m not the brightest guy in the world, but I can put things together. It takes a leap of faith.”
Roylos decided to try out for “Shark Tank” because of the “automatic notoriety and validation” the show’s successful contestants receive. So how did his audition go?
“It was good. Quick. I forgot half my spiel,” he said. “I think it will be all right. Who knows what’s going to happen.”
Roylos was among the more than 300 people who lined up Wednesday morning outside the Italian Heritage Center for a chance to appear on “Shark Tank,” which airs Fridays at 9 p.m. Contestants on “Shark Tank” attempt to convince one of the show’s celebrity entrepreneurs to invest in their business.
Salyers said his staff was prepared Wednesday to hear at least 500 one-minute pitches for businesses, products, services and ideas.
Contestants tried to sell the production staffers on a variety of business ideas ranging from the brilliant to the bizarre. They came from across New England and beyond for the opportunity to raise investment capital and enjoy 15 minutes of fame on the show.
FIRST IN LINE: NEW YORK CITY MAN
The first hopeful to arrive for the auditions was Mohammad Ahmad Hamadah of New York City, who said he took his place at the front of the line Monday at 8:30 p.m. Hamadah, a 30-year-old inventor and carpenter who lives on Staten Island, was pitching a fire-suppression and alarm system for household kitchens. He made an 11-hour trip and slept in a sleeping bag for his chance to be on the show.
Hamadah said the casting manager who heard his pitch listened attentively and followed up with a few questions, but gave no verbal or physical indication of how well he did.
“You can’t tell from their face whether it’s yes or no,” he said.
Salyers made it clear to the contestants that their odds of making it onto the show were slim. Roughly 40,000 people try out for “Shark Tank” each year, he said, and about 115 actually get a shot at pitching to the celebrity panel. Some of those pitches don’t even make it on air.
“We shoot more than we use,” he said.
The show stars a panel of well-known entrepreneurs, referred to as “sharks,” who listen to contestants’ pitches and may agree to invest their own money if they like what they hear. If none of the sharks decides to make a deal, the contestant goes home with nothing.
The casting call in Portland was for the seventh season, which begins shooting in September. Salyers said successful applicants would receive a call within a week.
“Shark Tank” drew an average of more than 9 million viewers per episode during its most recent run and has been the No. 1 show on Friday nights since 2012.
For the past few seasons, the show’s investor panel has included real estate magnate Barbara Corcoran, technology innovator Robert Herjavec, FUBU clothing founder Daymond John, Canadian venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and QVC pitchwoman Lori Greiner.
In 2012, Scarborough natives and cousins Sabin Lomac and Jim Tselikis appeared on “Shark Tank,” where they received $55,000 from Corcoran for their Cousins Maine Lobster food truck business, which is now a national franchise with 10 locations.
IMPORTANT ADVICE, HIGH ATTENDANCE
Salyers said his staff was looking primarily at the person making the pitch. He said enthusiasm and vision are the keys to advancement.
“Most importantly, act like you care,” he told attendees at the casting call. “If you’re not excited about your company, we’re not going to be excited about your company.”
Salyers said he was impressed with the high attendance at Wednesday’s auditions. For its relatively small size, he said, Portland drew the largest crowd he has seen. Casting call sponsor U.S. Cellular was responsible for bringing the show to Portland.
“We pride ourselves on being local and bringing opportunities to a territory that ‘Shark Tank’ probably wouldn’t get to on their own,” said Matt Kasper, director of New England sales for the Chicago-based wireless communications company.
Hartford, Connecticut, residents Tom Baggiero and Michael Castardo came to pitch their idea for a safe room that would be placed inside classrooms to protect students and teachers in the event of a school attack.
They have been working on the idea for a while and have even talked to educators and legislators about it, but their attempt to get on “Shark Tank” was a first.
“We’ve never done this before, never been on television,” Baggiero said.
TOAST S’MORES, CHEW BREAKFAST
Portland residents Madison Gouzie and Eric Holstein were not only pitching their business for the show, they were also selling their products to the crowd.
The two Colby College graduates own The Marshmallow Cart, which sells giant marshmallows on sticks and what Gouzie calls “street-side roasted s’mores,” cooked right in front of the customer with a butane torch.
Gouzie and Holstein figured it would be a good idea to bring the cart, although they couldn’t take it into the auditions.
“Make your money while you can, right?” Gouzie said.
Serial entrepreneur Mark Rondeau, of Sanford, said he had six inventions he was planning to pitch during his one-minute spiel, but he was cagey about describing to the media exactly what the inventions do.
“There is one for the toilet seat, one for the medicine cabinet, ones for beer bottles and glasses, a hair salon chair modification and a breakfast gum,” Rondeau said. “It’s a gum for breakfast that you chew.”
Scott Sloan, a technology entrepreneur from Gray, was there to pitch a software system for hotels and cruise ships that tracks towels, bathrobes and linens with low-cost radio frequency ID chips sewn into them. The idea is that guests will no longer be able to steal bathrobes and towels and hide them in their luggage.
The business is already underway, but Sloan hopes getting his pitch on television will increase sales.
“We’re trying to get exposure,” he said. “It’s about velocity.”
SKIPPING CLASS FOR HER BIG CHANCE
Linda Kachelski tried out for the show after driving with her son from Flint, Michigan, a 17-hour trip.
Her pitch was for a mobile app that would allow a deaf person to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t know sign language. Kachelski’s mother is deaf.
“The app will be able to change your voice into sign language or closed caption,” she said.
Kachelski, a student at the University of Michigan, said it was worth missing a bit of summer classes for a chance to get her idea off the ground.
“I skipped class to be here, because I just felt that I had to be here,” she said.
Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher contributed to this report.