What do a suitcase designer, credit card fraud prevention firm, smart-key inventor and hummus maker all have in common? Three things – they’re homegrown startups from Orlando, they graduated from the University of Central Florida (UCF) and they’ve received venture capital offers from ABC’s TV show “Shark Tank.”
All of these Orlando-based startup companies are gaining national attention and venture capital offers through the hit show featuring exceptionally successful panelists and self-made entrepreneurs looking to reinvest in guests’ winning ideas and products.
And the connections between Orlando entrepreneurs and the Emmy-nominated TV show don’t end there. In addition to the four successes of UCF alumni on “Shark Tank,” the show is also produced by Clay Newbill, another UCF alumnus who was inducted into the UCF Nicholson School of Communication Hall of Fame in September 2013.
“Shark Tank” provides an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to present their products to the “sharks,” including billionaire Mark Cuban; real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran; “Queen of QVC” Lori Greiner; technology innovator Robert Herjavec; fashion and branding expert Daymond John; and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary to secure investment deals to help fund their business ideas.
The four UCF alumni have been offered over $2 million through “Shark Tank” including:
- The Trunkster is a water and shock resistant suitcase featuring a built-in digital scale, USB charging station and GPS-enabled tracking system. UCF alumnus Gaston Blanchet, ’09, and his business partner, Jesse Potash, won a deal on the show in December 2015 with two sharks for $1.4 million and 5 percent equity for their luggage invention.
- O’Dang Hummus started its food craze at local Orlando farmers markets and earned a $50,000 deal on the show. Alumnus and CEO Jesse Wolfe has had his salad dressings and hummus picked up by major food providers in Central Florida including Whole Foods and Publix.
- SignalVault, a tech firm that helps fight credit card fraud, increased weekly product sales from the normal 200 a week to more than 25,000 after landing a $200,000 deal on “Shark Tank” in September 2015, according to president and UCF grad Chris Gilpin.
- UniKey, founded and headquartered in Orlando by UCF grad Phil Dumas, has grown from a startup to a fast growing company with offices in Silicon Valley. UniKey, the first company in the history of “Shark Tank” to receive offers from all five investors, powers leading smart locks with a secure mobile platform to replace keys, codes and passwords by turning a smartphone into a universal electronic key.
Orlando’s future successes seem bright as the region is among the nation’s fastest-growing population and employment markets, boasts an innovative and diverse workforce with more than 1.2 million people and a strong talent pipeline of more than 500,000 students within a 100 mile radius. “Shark Tank” hasn’t seen the last of Orlando startups.