Competition exists outside Penn, too.
In recent years, several Wharton alumni have gone on the cutthroat reality TV show “Shark Tank” to present their businesses to investors. In the show, independent entrepreneurs present their business ideas to a panel of businessmen and women, who can then choose to invest in the company.
2007 Wharton and Engineering graduate Alex Furmansky took his company, Budsies, to the investors, known on the show as “Sharks,” in an episode that aired last week. Budsies launched in 2013 when Furmansky saw his little sister Michelle’s artwork go to waste. “She’d come home from school with these little cool drawings which would go on the fridges and then meet their death in the recycling bin,” Furmansky said.
Furmansky started Budsies when he realized that he could bring Michelle’s artwork to life by turning it into custom stuffed animals. “Budsies was this incredible way to treasure her creativity,” Furmansky said. “It’s combining the best of both worlds for a child.”
To date, Budsies has had over 9,000 orders of custom toys. “We literally bring kids’ creativity to life,” Furmansky said. “It’s certainly the most rewarding thing I’ve ever worked on.”
Furmansky’s experience on the show started with a long audition process. “Imagine having to write a business plan, create a 10 minute video of yourself and do it all within five days,” he said.
Though Furmansky acknowledged that the show had elements of the Hollywood culture, he said that he was surprised by how authentic the experience felt. “It was very real — very raw. It truly felt like I was in that room, just me and the Sharks,” he said.
Despite the Sharks’ offers, Furmansky said he thought he “could do better elsewhere.” Even though he walked away without an investor, Furmansky said the experience was well worth it. “It is publicity that most money can’t buy.”
Wharton prepared Furmansky well for the show. “The Sharks might have gotten intimidated themselves,” he said. “They really tried to grill me because of my Penn-Wharton background.”
Wharton undergraduates aren’t the only ones who have appeared on the show. Jordan Lloyd Bookey, who received her MBA from Wharton in 2007, was approached by one of the producers of Shark Tank when a pop-up accelerator, NewME, published a blog post about her new company, Zoobean.
A week after Zoobean launched in May 2013, a producer wrote to them asking if they wanted to be on Shark Tank. “It opened so many doors for us,” Bookey said. “It was early on in our process [and] we were fine-tuning our business model. It was amazing having that investment.”
Bookey said the Shark Tank environment was more intimidating than Wharton. “The anxiety level before going into both of them is similar for me. In Wharton, they gave us a lot of steps that helped me. I was able to manage that intensity.”
Bookey and her husband, Felix Brandon Lloyd, started Zoobean when they became parents. They were unable to find a children’s book that reflected their interracial family until a librarian sent them a book. “We want to deliver that experience for other families,” Bookey said.
Bookey said that the Shark Tank investors taught her that entrepreneurs need to fully commit to their endeavors. “The difference between those who make it and those who don’t is effort,” Bookey said.
Furmansky agreed that Wharton was invaluable in his preparation for the show. He said that students should create startups while they’re in school. “The first startup will be the hardest one and the one most likely to fail,” Furmansky said.
Furmansky said that Penn is the best place for startups because of the college safety net. “You’re in this very unique environment that will never be replicated again in your life,” he said. “Do something.”
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