'Shark Tank' swims to Philadelphia

Some of the best pitching won’t be happening the next few days at Citizen’s Bank Park, but rather at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and at Drexel University, where Shark Tank and the TechGirlz’ Entrepreneur Camp will respectively be holding court.

Having lucked out before with Philly finds – the very well received  scholarship search app Scholly, 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 be staging an “open casting call” on Saturday for  candidates as a feature of  the NAACP Convention holding forth 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 co-sponsor ValuesPartnership, an organization that brings foundations, non-profits and private companies into partnerships with “faith-based, ethnic and other grassroots influencers.”  

While looking to diversify, the TV show doesn’t make it easy. By and large pitchers who  survive the audition process are people of some means who’ve already gotten half-way to their goals, with  producers and the (now) celebrity investors/judges seemingly liking it that way. 

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

At the NAACP Shark Tank Open Casting Call signup page 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 from 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 aged girls (ages 11-15) to become future technology leaders. (Only three percent of tech startups are led by women, according to the Kauffman Foundation.) The camp puts these would-be leaders together 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 Artisan Mobile, City of Philadelphia manager of entrepreneurial investment Archna Sahay plus Fox 29 tech contributor/QVC spokesperson Stephanie Humphrey.

This 1-2:30 p.m. nail-biter will be streamed on Periscope.

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