YBI Sharks Ready to Hunt Next Big Startup

CANFIELD, Ohio — Working at her father’s company during college and after graduation provided Ellen Tressel with a first-hand look into the world of an entrepreneur.

For 11 years until 1983, Tressel worked at Youngstown Welding and Engineering Co., starting part time and working her way up to director of purchasing, she said. While it was a “great learning experience” in seeing how a business runs, it gave her an appreciation for what it takes to be a business owner, she said.

“Dad worked hard,” Tressel recalled. “He was always on the road trying to sell something and expand the company, and did quite well.”

Now as a philanthropist and First Lady of Youngstown State University, Tressel is using those unique insights as a guide as one of the Sharks in the Youngstown Business Incubator’s 2nd Annual Shark Tank event.

Despite the trials and tribulations budding entrepreneurs experience trying to get their businesses off the ground, Tressel said now is a good time to take that leap.

“I think if anything positive came out of COVID, it was that it taught us maybe to be more creative. To think more like an entrepreneur down the road,” she said. “Because we had to reimagine ourselves. We had to reimagine our businesses to make it, because none of us knew what COVID was really all about, and how long it was going to last and what the devastating effects were going to be.”

2021 Shark Tank ‘Sharks’

The YBI introduced Tressel and the other Sharks at a launch event Thursday evening at the Tippecanoe Country Club. There are six Sharks this year, up from five the first year.

Tressel will be joined by John Masternick, CEO of Windsor House Inc. and the sole returning Shark from 2019, Atlas Partners CEO Timothy Wolf Starr, Comeback Capital partner Patrick McKenna, 2Deep Entertainment president and CEO Terrill Vidale, and Lenny Fisher, CEO of Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt.

YBI CEO Barb Ewing praised this year’s shiver of Sharks as “a great combination of local and national” business leaders. In addition to the local investors, having McKenna and Wolf Starr on hand allows the event to take advantage of the interest in Midwest investing, she said.

“We’re bringing our A-game, that’s for sure,” Ewing said. “We’re excited to work with all of them.”

YSU President Jim Tressel is the event’s emcee, and said his job will be to “make sure that these Sharks are swimming.

“And that we go into the evening knowing it just takes one great idea … to change our region. We can change things with one unbelievable entrepreneur,” he said.

This year’s event is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 28 at Waypoint 4180 at Westford Commons. Early-stage companies can win up to $10,000 and have the potential for additional investment from the Sharks.

Applicants have until 5 p.m. on Aug. 31 to register to pitch their business idea. Information on how to apply, as well as purchase tickets or sponsor the event can be found at YBI.org/sharktank.

The YBI launched the event in 2019, but had to postpone things last year because of the pandemic, Ewing said. With so much momentum coming out of the inaugural event, sitting out 2020 was difficult, she said.

“Of everything that was lost last year, not being able to do a follow up to that event really was one of the hardest parts of the year,” Ewing said. “We tried twice, got shut down both times. This one’s going to be fantastic.”

The event is important, she said, because it raises awareness to early-stage investing opportunities and building local capacity, she said. Not all philanthropy or community involvement has to be a donation, she said, and supporting early-stage companies is just as important for building up the Mahoning Valley.

“There’s lots of dollars in the Mahoning Valley that sit on the sidelines,” she said. “And this is a great way to get people excited about it and just asking the question, ‘What else can we be doing?’ “

Lindsay Watson, founder of Augment Therapy, secured more than $350,000 when she won the 2019 Shark Tank event.

“Winning the Shark Tank event completely accelerated our visibility and fundraising efforts,” Watson said in a prepared statement. “It put us in front of some exceptional investors all in one palace at one time and served as our tipping point for growth.”

Each of the Sharks are eager to sink their teeth into the event and hope to pass along some of their personal experiences in business to help the event entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

“I’m just so excited for this opportunity to share some of my knowledge, some of my wisdom that I’ve learned over the years,” Vidale said. “I’m looking forward to connecting with them and building with them, even after the event.”

Handel’s Fisher complimented YBI for putting on the event and advised those in attendance at the launch party that on the night of Shark Tank, to “bring your checkbooks.

“We expect you to spend money and support these entrepreneurs, because it’s a great thing that we can do to have this thing local and help these people grow as we have,” Fisher said.

YSU President Tressel said he hopes the Sharks are able to find some entrepreneurs in the group of presenters “that could be a difference-maker in our region.” He’s particularly interested in seeing which presentations get the attention of his wife.

As for what will grab Ellen Tressel’s attention, “I just have to wait and see,” she said.

“Something new. Something creative. Something inventive,” she said. “And maybe that piques my interest down the road, but it’ll be fun to see what they all come up with.”

Pictured at top: Terrill Vidale, YSU President Jim Tressel and Ellen Tressel, and Lenny Fisher were on hand for the official kick-off of this year’s YBI Shark Tank Event. President Tressel will emcee the event, while Vidale, Ellen Tressel and Fisher are Sharks. Other Sharks not pictured include John Masternick, Patrick McKenna and Timothy Wolf Starr.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.