YBI Seeks Applicants for ‘Shark Tank’ Event

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Regional entrepreneurs will have a chance to earn prize money to fund their business ideas at the first ever “Shark Tank” pitch competition and fundraising event.

Hosted by the Youngstown Business Incubator and sponsored by Medical Mutual of Ohio, the event is a take on the popular television show where hopeful entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of “sharks.” The YBI version will see 10 regional startups giving 90-second elevator pitches to a panel of five local and regional entrepreneurs. The event is scheduled for Friday, May 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. at The Lake Club.

The process “will be very similar to what you would see on the show,” said Corey Patrick, director of marketing and communications for the YBI. The organization is working with Forty Two Event Production to get the vision on paper and “make it an entertaining evening,” he said. The YBI came up with the idea in December for its annual fundraising event, which had been tied to its Women in Entrepreneurship event for the last few years, he said.

“This year, we really took a step back and looked at the clients we were serving and wanted to do an event that represented all of our programs,” he said. “This is about showcasing the different opportunities, programs and services that we have.”

After nearly a month of receiving applications, the YBI has about 25 applicants from the Youngstown area, and as far as Columbus and the greater Pittsburgh area, Patrick said. He’s hoping to double that by the time application closes March 27.

The applicants thus far are “extremely diverse,” said Colleen Kelly, YBI director of development, which is “going to make for a great evening of innovation and amazing stories.”

Applicants include startups in sectors that the YBI typically serves, such as technology, and women- and minority-owned businesses, as well as unique sectors like bakers and social enterprise companies, Patrick said. The event is open to anyone with a business idea, he said.

“We really want great entrepreneurs in every spectrum,” he said. “They’re really all over the board, which is what we want.”

To make it a truly regional effort, the YBI invited its partner organizations in areas like Cleveland, Lorain, Kent and Akron to promote the event to their local entrepreneurs. Feedback has been strong, which is going a long way to fulfilling the intent to showcase the entrepreneurial talent in the northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania region, he said.

Three of the five sharks have been confirmed, but will remain unnamed to build suspense, he said. The lead shark is “a very well known and well respected local entrepreneur,” and will be joined by another local entrepreneur as well as one from the Pittsburgh area, he said.

After the applications are collected, an internal committee comprised of business owners and YBI entrepreneurs-in-residence will review them to determine the final 10 to be featured at the event.

“They’ll actually get some business counseling as well just for putting themselves out there,” Patrick said. “We will work with the entrepreneurs to polish their pitch and get them ready for the event.”

During the event, the group of 10 will deliver 90-second pitches to the panel of sharks, who will select their top three. Audience members will vote to advance three additional entrepreneurs to the final round.

“People go to fundraisers all the time. We want this to be a fun evening and want the audience to be engaged,” Patrick said.

After a question and answer session, the sharks will determine which entrepreneur places first, second and third for $6,000, $3,000 and $1,000, respectively. Prize money is made possible by support from the event’s sponsor, Medical Mutual of Ohio. As an Ohio-based company, Medical Mutual takes “great pride in giving back to the communities – like Youngstown – where we live and work,” said Ben Stoffer, vice president of sales for East-Southeast. The company is happy to support the work of the YBI “and proud to be their insurer,” he said.

“These types of events are all about opening doors for people, whether it is making professional connections or getting that crucial piece of funding,” Stoffer said. “Providing more of these types of opportunities strengthens our economy and community.”

The event is open for anyone to attend. Tickets are $75 each or $575 for a table of eight, and can be purchased at YBI.org/sharktank or by calling 330 506 0054. Proceeds will support programming and services at the YBI, which are offered free of charge to startups, said Patrick, who hopes to make this an annual event.

For sponsorship and advertising opportunities in the program booklet, contact Corey Patrick at cpatrick@ybi.org or Colleen Kelly at ckelly@ybi.org.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.