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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Friday, April 12, 2024
The Echo
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Student contestants swim with the sharks, compete for up to $5,000

TU celebrates diverse accomplishments

“What would you do if you won $5,000?” junior Wade Frances, Taylor University’s 2023 Shark Tank host, asked audience members.

The 10th edition of Taylor’s Shark Tank — themed “Back to the Future” — was held in Rediger Auditorium on Nov. 2. It welcomed six business pitches in competition for a first-place prize of $5,000, an amount doubled from the previous year.

“It's the first year that the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is hosting it and we're trying to build off the legacy of the previous nine editions (of Shark Tank) we’ve had,” Mick Bates, director of innovation and entrepreneurship, said. “We want to make it an even bigger event on campus.”

Contestants dressed in suits and business attire competed for a cumulative total of $9,500 in prize money to be distributed across three winners. They presented business ideas including JoyBox, Fliptodrip, Shepherd Security, Ino Bar, Goose Wax and Toy Closet. 

Sophomore Brayden Gogis’ JoyBox claimed the first place prize of $5,000 which he hopes to invest in partnerships with influencers and ambassadors for his product.

Gogis presented the inspiration behind his business idea: a box where people store slips of paper that list things they are grateful for, accessing the contents of the box only after a certain period of time. The concept originated from a family friend of Gogis.

His Shark Tank pitch was a memory storage app where people can do that same thing but in digital form. The app would act as a time capsule and as a way of promoting mental health through exercising gratitude.

In second place, senior Jared Sisson won $2,500 for his business, Shepherd Security, a smart mapping system that quickly routes people out of a location in the case of an emergency, particularly in that of an active shooter. The concept would use a lighting system that could indicate which exits are or aren’t “safe” to enter.

Sisson wants to use his newly earned money to patent his idea.

With $1,000 in prize money for her Taylor University smoothie bar concept, Ino Bar, junior Deanna Grey earned third place. She planned on using her prize to finalize her business’ space and location.

This year’s event also included more audience participation with a raffle for multiple prizes including mugs, tumblers and blankets, as well as a $1,000 Audience Choice Award which was gifted to junior James Proodian’s Goose Wax — an idea to create vending machines for surfboard wax distribution. 

Voted on by the event’s audience, the Audience Choice Award also included a $50 Slingshot gift certificate.

Students had a strict seven minutes to present their idea with five minutes for sharks to ask questions. 

The event was sponsored by its five sharks: David Rosenberg, Secretary of Commerce for the state of Indiana; Mark Bowell, vice president of Tesco companies; Alice Tsang, Taylor University professor of finance; Mary Walraven, a veteran mortgage industry executive; and John Wieland, MH Equipment CEO. 

In previous years, there had been three sharks, serving as yet another marker for the event’s 10th edition celebration. 

Now under the university’s new Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), Shark Tank preceded the night’s closing by announcing the event’s rebranding. 

Bidding farewell with a courteous handshake on the stage, the shark mascot was replaced with the Taylor Trojan. No longer called “Shark Tank” after ABC’s infamous reality show, the event will be renamed “Trojan Arena” to maintain consistency with the Taylor brand and fully integrate it as an extension of the CIE.

“(We wondered) what can we do with the brand to actually make it stronger and more effective to the students,” Director of IMPACT Victor Cusato said. “I think that was the main point of deciding to (rename Shark Tank). If you cut us, we bleed purple — that’s why we needed something Taylor branded.” 

The 10th edition milestone and CIE taking over provided a transition point for the rebranding to begin, he said.

Bates described the annual event as a “launch point” in the fall — a time to energize students and encourage them to exercise their innovation and entrepreneurship muscles.

“It's really an intentional activity to inspire creativity and innovation here on Taylor University's campus and not just intended for creativity's sake, but creativity that really reflects God's desire for us to reflect his image,” Bates said.