Longhorns Vie for a Chance in the “Shark Tank”

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 4.10.19 PMSharks and Longhorns may not sound like a natural duo—but they got along just fine this morning in the Alumni Center.

About 50 aspiring UT entrepreneurs showed up Thursday to pitch their business ideas at an exclusive Texas Exes casting event for the ABC’s Shark Tank, the reality show where startup founders face tough questions from potential investors—and sometimes win big checks.

Casting director Scott Salyers, BA ’94, BS ’95, says he reached out to the Texas Exes in the hopes of getting to meet UT entrepreneurs—and providing a more intimate experience than other casting calls, which can get crowded and chaotic. “Less of a cattle call and more of a one-on-one,” he said.

The show sees many potential contestants with ideas worthy of funding, but Salyers says that it’s less about the business and more about the person.

Matt Thomas and Tom Mansfield, founders of Brawl for a Cause, have capitalized on this advice.

In matching Brawl for a Cause tank tops— despite the 40-degree weather —the two men explained that their idea is to hold boxing matches to raise money for charity.

“We’ve been told it’s more about who you are than what you’re pitching, and we’ve made sure to focus on the story of our event,” Thomas said.

Brawl for a Cause has found success in Georgia, where Thomas originally met Mansfield,  then an undergraduate exchange student from Australia (he’s now a graduate student in advertising at UT).

By allowing boxers to choose which cause they want to donate to, Brawl for a Cause can contribute to 20 causes instead of just one, Mansfield explained.”It’s not what we care about, it’s what they care about,” Mansfield said. “They can literally fight for what they believe in.”

Thomas and Mansfield were two of about 50 hopefuls waiting for their chance to pitch. Salyers tried to create a relaxed environment by casually chatting with them as they waited.

Perry Nelson, MBA ’10, Life Member, one of the only female entrepreneurs in the room, was both nervous and excited after her pitch. Her two-year-old stationery subscription service, Nicely Noted, sends a monthly package of note cards to encourage people to send handwritten letters.

The early casting opportunity given to Life Members at the Alumni Center was a big draw for her to participate, she said. Now, she comes full circle. As a student she also pitched her winning idea at the Alumni Center for a McCombs School of Business event, and she’s now been in business for two years.

“Hopefully this building brings good things,” Nelson said.

Aspiring entrepreneurs hook ’em while waiting to pitch their business ideas to Shark Tank casting directors. Photo by Anna Donlan.

 

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