Thursday, February 26, 2015
Startup Gets Bite on "Shark Tank"
On Feb. 6, Bobbie Rhoads (TPR'93) appeared on Shark Tank to pitch her company, FunBites.
Rhoads entered the Tank with hopes that the "sharks" would invest in her product — food cutters that slice meals and snacks into fun shapes.
She had been in business for three years, and was hoping that one of the sharks, a judging panel of investors, would open doors to get her into big-box stores.
She didn't realize that by the end of the show they'd be fighting over her.
Rhoads started the company to encourage her picky-eater daughters to try new and different foods — she found that cutting up healthy foods into fun shapes made it appealing.
Rhoads credits her time at Carnegie Mellon University with the foundation for her entrepreneurship.
"The background provided at the school really helped in understanding the different aspects of creating your own business and building a brand," Rhoads said.
Rhoads' husband Ed Rhoads (E'85, TPR'93) currently does the background operations and IT for FunBites. His degree in mechanical engineering from CMU helped him work with the product and tooling designers. An on-campus job also assisted them in the growth of the company.
"I worked with the Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation (CTTEC) and that exposure to the patenting process was helpful in applying for our patent," he said.
Back on the show, Bobbie Rhoads pitched her company. She knew her CMU education would be a hit with Pittsburgh native and "shark" Mark Cuban, and as soon as she mentioned it, he yelled, "Pittsburgh!"
"I've taken this company as far as I can go as one person. I need help opening doors. Once I get in I can sell it," Rhoads told the sharks. She mentioned that it had done almost $500,000 in sales in its three years of business.
She served up dishes of food cut into hearts, squares and triangles, to demonstrate her product. She talked about her recent successes at a trade show, and asked the sharks for what she wanted: $75,000 in return for 20% equity.
There was a lot of interest. Three sharks offered deals. The most enticing offer came from Lori Greiner, who is known as the "Queen of QVC" and has launched over 400 products. She offered $75,000 for 25% equity — and she emphasized that she had relationships with all the businesses that Rhoads needed.
Rhoads jumped at the chance to partner with Greiner, and the two women hugged.
"We're going to be huge!" Rhoads exclaimed.
Rhoads walked away with what she called the "perfect" partner for her. Her advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
"Never give up. Every time a wall seems to be in your way, break through."