Latrobe-based cellhelmet to get exposure on 'Shark Tank' TV show
By Amanda Dolasinski
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
A cellhelmet team had just three minutes for a shot at an investment that would put its product on shelves in stores across the region.
Team members made pitches before, but this time was different.
Now, they were pitching to impress five of the country's wealthiest business experts, and 7 million potential buyers would be watching.
Michael Kane and David Artuso, part owners of Latrobe-based cell phone case manufacturer cellhelmet, will appear on ABC's “Shark Tank” at 9 p.m. Friday.
“That's a really big deal, especially for such a small company,” said Kane, 30. “I've been a huge fan of the show since the first four seasons. It's extremely surreal that it's actually happening.”
A panel of five business experts, known as sharks, hear pitches from businesses and entrepreneurs. In exchange for a cash investment, the entrepreneurs give up a percentage of their companies' equity.
Mark Cuban, a Pittsburgh native and Dallas Mavericks owner, is one of the experts.
The company received an email to gauge its interest in appearing on the show last year, Kane said. Although he and Artuso were skeptical, they jumped at the opportunity to move their product from exclusive online sales to store shelves in the region.It wasn't until they were on a plane headed to Los Angeles in September when it really sunk in. Once on set, they gave a three-minute pitch and answered questions for 45 minutes.
“We were nervous, but prepared,” Kane said.
The group can't reveal whether the sharks decided to invest in their product.
The company started when Kane and Bryan McHenry, 38, invested $700 to sell cell phone cases online. Each time they made a sale, they learned what people want in cases.
Soon, they were crafting their own designs for iPhones. The first model wasn't quite right. It was too clunky for the phone's delicate frame.
“We wanted to do something slim and simple,” Kane said. “We created something from literally nothing.”Childhood friend Artuso, 24, joined the team last year. Other owners are David Eldridge and Justin Goehring.
As a unique feature, the company added damage protection to each case. If a phone breaks inside a cellhelmet case, the company will repair or replace it.That pitch last year won more than 344 investors on Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform for creative projects.
“One thing we realized is a large gap in the market,” Kane said. “There are so many consumers who opt out of $10-a-month insurance, which typically comes with a hefty deductible as well. Here's the ultimate solution, because most consumers purchase a case. Why not purchase one that comes with damage coverage?”
In seven days, the company hit its fundraising goal of $10,000. When the allotted 30 days ended on Kickstarter, it had raised $19,080.
About 7,000 phone cases were sold online in the first year, Kane said. The cases are available at Verizon and other cell phone accessory stores in the Pittsburgh area.
The trio anticipates selling double that in the first quarter this year.
“We started out because we wanted to create an indestructible iPhone case,” he said. “We know what we're doing is solving a problem.”
Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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