By Tim Ryan

The Rivers Casino Portsmouth was abuzz with innovation and excitement as hundreds of hopeful entrepreneurs from Hampton Roads and beyond gathered on April 12, 2024, for the much-anticipated “Shark Tank” casting call. This pivotal event marked the first time the reality TV juggernaut sought pitches in Virginia, offering local innovators a unique platform to potentially secure funding and advice from some of the savviest investors in the business world.

From the early hours, participants equipped with props, prototypes, and a dream lined up to deliver their one-minute pitches to the “Shark Tank” casting team. The air was electric with passion and potential as each entrepreneur presented their business concepts, hoping to advance to the next round and face the “sharks” — including notables such as Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, and Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary.

Among the diverse pitches, Hampton’s Marching Elites drill team stood out with their eye-catching, gold-adorned custom beach bicycles. Mark Cooper, the drill master and founder, aims to bring “West Coast flavor to the East Coast” with bikes priced between $1,400 and $1,800, supporting the drill team’s activities. Another notable pitch was from Lisa Sikes of Richmond, who showcased a miniature bathtub and shower setup to demonstrate her product, The Schuppy, a hanging rinsing cup designed to streamline bathroom hygiene.

The entrepreneurial spirit was palpable as Robert Gagnon and his family, adorned with lei necklaces, pitched their Palm Treats bakery. They offer fruit-flavored Hawaiian snack cakes based on a unique family recipe from Honolulu.

Mindy Zemrak, “Shark Tank’s” supervising casting producer, noted the high caliber of presentations. She explained that while around 130-150 pitches might be filmed for the season, typically only 40-50 will make it to air. This rigorous selection underscores the show’s competitive nature and the polish level expected in successful pitches.

The event not only highlighted the participants’ innovative prowess but also demonstrated the strong community support for entrepreneurship in Hampton Roads. Innovate Hampton Roads (IHR) was instrumental in promoting this opportunity and providing resources to prepare local businesses for such high-stakes opportunities.

Previous local participants like Lakesha Brown-Renfro, co-owner of Mango Mangeaux, shared insights from their experiences on “Shark Tank.” Despite not securing an investment, the exposure led to significant sales boosts and invaluable business insights, illustrating that the true value often extends beyond immediate financial gains.

As “Shark Tank” prepares for its 16th season, the casting call at Portsmouth has enriched the local business landscape and reinforced Hampton Roads’ reputation as a burgeoning hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. This event will undoubtedly inspire more local businesses to reach for their dreams, armed with a robust support system and a community eager to see them succeed.

Read the full story at The Virginian-Pilot.