UCCS student Chuck Furgeson faced off against four sharks this week and lived to tell about it. He was the first to make a five-minute pitch about his invention during Peak Venture Group’s version of the popular ABC television show “Shark Tank” on the University of Colorado Colorado Springs campus. The network program features budding entrepreneurs who pitch their business idea to six investors — calling themselves sharks — in hopes of cutting a deal that will propel their product from idea to market. Furgeson pitched his invention, called Go Gauge — a speedometer for longboards — to four judges, including a restaurateur, a UCCS professor of innovation, a CTO of a multi-million-dollar company and a CEO specializing in search-engine optimization.
In all, five entrepreneurs held their own as judges grilled them on their revenue models, their competitors and demand for their product. Each entrepreneur took center stage to make a five-minute pitch to the judges and a packed room of about 250 spectators. They knew the winner would take home $500, put up by El Pomar Institute for Innovation and Commercialization. Entrepreneurs were vetted by PVG, which started monthly Pitch Nights in September 2011 as a way for Colorado Springs entrepreneurs to have a shot at pitching startup ideas to business leaders and even angel investors. Their business ideas had to be solid to make it to center stage for the special edition of Pitch Night, Shark Tank-style. Doyle Heisler pitched an app that he said would make the game of golf more fun. Dan MacFadyen said people want to tell, and leave behind, the stories of their lives. His app lets them. David Nienaber gave a complex presentation about how his device would revolutionize software-defined radio. Mike Wagle said people want to interact with their videos. They had five minutes to convince judges that their product was the next big thing. “They all have merit,” said Joseph Coleman Jr., founder of Blue Star and Nosh restaurants and one of the judges. “The key is what do you love and why?”
Furgeson slalomed through questions about the validity of his invention, a device that attaches to the longboard — a longer variation of a skateboard — to give racers accurate speed-readings. There is only one longboard maker now with a built-in speedometer. That means users have to buy that brand of board, Furgeson said. Meanwhile, professional riders don’t want to carry hand-held devices. Go Gauge solves that, he said. Furgeson, a longboarder himself, said those who race competitively need the Go Gauge, which stores information to be printed later. Coleman wasn’t convinced. “They need a helmet; they don’t need a speedometer,” he challenged. Unfazed by the shark attack, Furgeson said if longboarders want to get better and continually monitor progress, then they do need the device, which he co-developed with Ethan Schlagel. Go Gauge is targeted to 16- to 25-year-olds who race for fun and professionally. Furgeson expects to sell units for $100 each through the Go Gauge website and $80 on other websites. He expects revenue could hit $500,000 in the first year. Furgeson is looking for investors and working on a 14-month timeline to market. Coleman called it a nifty idea, and felt Furgeson could sell the patent to an existing sports company. The device has a good look, but it’s not ready to rock ’n’ roll, judges said. They passed on the Go Gauge.
Heisler already is selling his app, iWanamaker, which helps organizers of golf tournaments, including nonprofits that host tournaments as fundraisers. Golfers, even if playing for a cause, want to keep tabs on their competitors, he said. The app allows them to punch in their scores as they play and track everyone in the tournament. It makes the game more fun, he said. Organizers who have used the app report higher participation in the next tournament because people like it so much. “This is an untapped market — live scoring is not offered,” he said. Tournament organizers would pay him a flat fee of about $500. Then they could sell sponsorships to go on the app — putting eyes on ads, he said. His goal is 2,000 events and he projects revenue could be $10.3 million by 2015. Judges were concerned about expenses eating into profit for iWanamaker, which would require a lot of travel time for sales reps to meet event organizers across the country. The golf app was a crowd favorite gaining shouts and applause. Judges said Heisler was too bullish on revenue and passed on iWanamaker.
It was no surprise that Dan MacFadyen was a great storyteller and gave a compelling pitch about Stori — a social media app that promises to connect people through their stories. Think of people who climb the Incline and want to write a short narrative about their experience. Using Stori, others can connect and share their story. Millions already are sharing stories on Facebook, he said. They already are checking in on Four Square. But Stori is different, he said. Using Stori, people can share their experience at a location, with everyone, not just friends. “It allows you to leave a story every single place you go,” he said. MacFadyen is three months from a finished product. His target users are 18 to 24 and comfortable giving out their location; enjoy a bit of voyeurism; and are willing to connect with perfect strangers. Judges were impressed, but wondered about liability. What if the story a person leaves about a business or attraction is a bad story, asked UCCS professor Colleen Stiles. Stori will have a good lawyer, MacFadyen said. Judges passed on Stori.
Nienaber, an engineer who specializes in integrated circuits and designs electronic systems, has made a product equal to the first microprocessors before Apple found a use for them, he said. When his software-defined radio chip hits, it’s going to be huge. In essence, his plan is to unleash radio from its current chains and streamline direct radio frequency to software-defined radio, meaning get rid of the typical hardware components and put them into software. While Nienaber’s pitch was in engineer-speak and about complex conversions that silenced the audience, somehow there was an understanding that his invention is big and will revolutionize wireless communications. Nienaber has been working on it for three years and has invested all his own money. Now he’s looking for an investor to take a chance with him, he said. Judges said he should find a salesperson to help him make a more understandable, less engineer-like pitch. He has to tell people that they could load an app on their phone for AM radio or open their garage door from the phone or use their phone as a radar detector. “Your idea has the biggest market of anyone here,” Coleman said. Nienaber projects revenue could hit $30 million by 2018. “Wow,” Stiles said. “Will you invest in someone else when you make all this money?” Judges passed on Broadband T.
Video advertising is the wave of the future and Mike Wagle wants to disrupt the video online space by selling interactive video tools. What if a viewer was watching a video of Tiger Woods playing golf, clicked on his polo shirt, and with a second click could order the exact same shirt? That’s what CLVR is about, he said. His product tags items in video and assigns interaction to it. People expect more from their viewing time, he said. “They want an authentic, genuine conversation,” said Wagle, a Cheyenne Mountain High School graduate who has his CLVR headquarters in Denver with a Colorado Springs office. The interaction also means people are staying longer on a video; they share it more often and they are more likely to “like” or “follow” a company or product, he said. CLVR charges a licensing fee to the client for the interactive technology. The company, with a 12-person team, had about $1 million in revenue in 2012 and Wagle believes he can double that this year. “My clients are anyone hosting or generating content for the web,” he said. That’s a winner, judges said. CLVR was deemed the best pitch and winner of the $500. More than that, Wagle earned applause from the sharks.
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