'Shark Tank': UNC Asheville Style

Dec 20, 2017

The TV show Shark Tank matches charismatic investors with fledgling entrepreneurs who are hoping to snag a business deal.   Earlier this month, some students at UNC- Asheville got a taste of the reality show experience.  Blue Ridge Public Radio’s Helen Chickering has details.

The University of North Carolina Asheville’s  version  uses a similar format -infused with a social mission.   Making the pitch - students enrolled in the university’s social entrepreneurship course, called Ideas to Action.

It’s an opportunity to give all students in all majors to work in interdisciplinary teams to put together an idea from scratch, idea, just a really rough idea they come into class with.”

That’s UNCA’s Mary Lynn Manns, Ph.D. , a professor in the department of management and accountancy, and teaches the Ideas to Action course.

“And they are supposed to come up with an idea for a for profit organization that solves a social or environmental issue.”

And at the end of the semester, there’s a competition and student teams get a chance to pitch their plan to local entrepreneurs – its shark tank, UNC Asheville style

“They come here and do a two minute pitch and they are drilled by the judges for about six minutes and then we pick first second and third place.”

The top three winners get funding for their idea.  This is the competition’s fourth year, and this round nine teams competed, including Katherine Franks and Tia Foster.

HC:  “Does this feel like Shark Tank?”

“Yeah,” says Tia Foster, I feel some Shark Tank vibes, “says Foster, “I wish I could pitch as confidently as they do on Shark Tank, but I’ll get there one day, I hope.”

“The amount of practicing we’ve done this whole semester, it felt pretty good to be up there,” says Katherine Franks, “but regardless, I was definitely shaking and a little bit nervous.”

Their idea is mobile reading app called Re Sight.  Tia Foster says works like a translator.

“The app utilizes optical character recognition to transform photos of text into audio versions of text.”

The team pitched recite as a learning tool.  They say the idea was triggered while Franks was recovering from a concussion and found she had trouble reading.

“I could no longer read, or comprehend reading material, something I used to excel at” Says Katherine Franks, “I did some research and found out that as many one in five Americans may have dyslexia and over forty million students struggle with learning disabilities, so this problem was much larger and extended well beyond myself.”

Chilly Buildings was the inspiration for Andy Morrison and Morgan Fuller’s idea.

“There’s this unnecessary over air conditioning in the United States,” says Morgan Fuller, “in my opinion”

Andy Morrison and Morgan Fuller pitched an app manage-air, Fuller says chilly buildings inspired the idea

Their solution – a crowd sourcing app, called Manage AIR designed to help regulate heating and cooling in big building – and help the environment says Andy Morrison.

“So we crowd source the data form the users of that building,” says Morrison, “ That allows the technicians of the space to understand that people are always way too cold in this room and they don’t need to be using all of this energy and in turn that allows them to save energy and save money.”

Other pitches included a student to student mentoring program, a campus vending machine that stocks toothbrushes and other essential items, an app that helps patients keep track of medical record and appointment

“I really enjoy talking to, listening to the students, their ideas,” says Bradley Cain, who works for the nonprofit, The Education and Research Consortium of the Western Carolinas and was one of the judges.  

“Some of them have put a lot of thought into their business plan and its fun to provide feedback.”

Taking third place, a safety alert accessory company called Safety Creations, A green certification program took second – and the idea inspired by a concussion, the reading app Recite, nabbed the top spot. 

“Everyone worked so hard” says Tia Foster,” It’s just really exciting!”

The top three now have funding to help turn their ideas into action.   Reporting from the UNC-Asheville’s shark tank.  I’m Helen Chickering, BPR News.