Let me set a scene for you: it’s Friday night. It’s been a long, hard week of work. The time has come to unwind, and what better way to do it than to pop up some popcorn, crack a beer, and settle in on the couch to watch some…desperate entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to a panel of venture capitalists?
That’s right, my friends. Friday night is Shark Tank night.
What, you ask, is Shark Tank? Clearly, you’ve been wasting your Friday nights. Shark Tank is a reality show, currently in its third season on ABC. The setup is pretty much what I laid out above; contestants, entrepreneurs with business ideas of varying quality, attempt to get the “sharks,” members of the panel of celebrity venture capitalists (VCs)–Mark Cuban being the most notable, and most entertaining–to buy stakes in their fledgling companies.
It’s an entertaining affair. And actually, the entertainment comes in several forms. If the business idea being pitched is laughable (take, for instance, the guy whose whole plan was to sell socks in threes instead of pairs) there’s a lot of cruel fun in watching the sharks tear the idea to pieces. On the other hand, if the business plan has actual merit, you can get genuine drama as the sharks maneuver around each other to make a deal and the contestant struggles to weigh options and avoid getting the shaft.
And occasionally a real issue will wander into the frame. In a recent episode, entrepreneur Donny McCall pitched the sharks on his idea to build modular, aftermarket racks for pickup trucks. A contractor by trade, he’d identified a market need and was ready to exploit it. But he was also adamant that he would only go forward if all of the components of his racks were manufactured in the United States, regardless of cost. The sharks pointed out that this inflated his overhead to such a point that the business wasn’t sustainable, and that he’d actually do more to accomplish his goal of employing Americans if he created a viable business that offshored its manufacturing when necessary. But McCall refused to budge, and his company went unfunded, and the segment served as an interesting little illustration of the complexities of a globalized economy. It was pretty great, even by the generally-debased standards of reality TV.
It’s worth pointing out that Shark Tank actually covers ground near and dear to the Opus College of Business. The Schulze School of Entrepreneurship grooms future entrepreneurs, and its associated entrepreneurship center (known within the OCB as “the fish bowl” for its glassy enclosure) nurtures alumni ventures. Some of those toiling away in the fish bowl may eventually find themselves in a situation somewhat resembling the one on Shark Tank; being St. Thomas people, they will no doubt face their VCs with more grace and poise than this Shark Tank contestant doing terrible a rap about a his kitty-drawing business.