YBI Announces 2024 Sharks and a Surprise Mystery Judge

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The 2024 Shark Tank launch party started off with a bit of mystery.

After introducing this year’s five sharks, who will judge the entrepreneurs’ pitches at this year’s event, Barb Ewing, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator, told the crowd, “There will be a sixth mystery shark, and it could be one of you.”

Just what that means, she declined to say.

The Youngstown Business Incubator held its Shark Tank launch party Thursday at B&O Station Banquet Hall, marking the official kickoff for this year’s event. The gathering was an opportunity to announce the celebrity sharks for this year’s competition, thank sponsors and donors and open applications for businesses aiming to participate in the main fundraising event Oct. 24.

The 2024 celebrity sharks are Stacy Howlett, CEO of Howlett Logistics; Ashley Vidale, co-owner of Sapphire Aesthetics and Wellness; Sam Boak, president of Boak and Sons Inc.; Rob Cochran, chairman and CEO of #1 Cochran; and former Youngstown State University football coach Bo Pelini.

“We always try to find people from different aspects of business, and who are true entrepreneurs,” Ewing said of this year’s sharks.

YBI is hoping to raise $400,000 and sell 750 tickets to this year’s Shark Tank.

Prize money includes $10,000 from Medical Mutual, $10,000 from Sam Boak, an additional $10,000 if YBI raises $350,000, and an additional $25,000 if it reaches its $400,000 goal.

“I love people that have new ideas, and I want to inspire them to go further,” Boak said.

Last year’s winner, Backyard Banger, a veteran-owned and operated business that builds and sells outdoor kitchens on wheels, went home with a $30,000 grand prize.

More than 700 people attended the event, which raised more than $315,000 for YBI and its programs.

The launch party served as a prelude to the main event, where businesses and entrepreneurs will pitch their ideas to the YBI celebrity sharks and investors. The pitches aim to secure investment and gain valuable exposure in front of a live audience. The October event is expected to draw significant attention and participation.

But to get the prize money, the entrepreneurs will first have to make it past the sharks.

“I think that in any business plan you need to have gone through your target audience and how you’re going to market and get the word out about your business,” Howlett said. “Especially a cost assessment. Do you really know how much it’s going to cost you to produce and be successful in your business?”

Vidale said events like Shark Tank can be invaluable to entrepreneurs who are starting out.

“When I was starting my business, it was very important that I had resources and people to bounce ideas off, especially those who already had businesses. So I want to give back and be a resource to those who are starting this business journey for themselves,” she said.

Last year, YBI reported impressive results, serving more than 1,000 local individuals, creating or retaining more than 400 jobs and raising $152 million in capital.

Ewing expressed her enthusiasm for this year’s event, anticipating a strong turnout of innovative pitches.

“I think it’s a testament that people want to support the redevelopment of our community,” she said. “I also think it’s a testament to the fact that we have hard work and grit in our DNA, and people love entrepreneurs. They love the idea that someone is going to create something out of nothing.”

For more information about the YBI Shark Tank and to apply for a chance to pitch, visit the YBI Shark Tank website.

Pictured at top: From left are Bo Pelini, Ashley Vidale, Sam Boak, Barb Ewing, Stacy Howlett and Steve Vesey, co-anchor of “WFMJ Today.” Vesey will MC the event.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.