Shark infested waters at the Jones School

Shark Tank is in the building. Or was. During Houston’s first ever Shark Tank open casting call, 300+ entrepreneurs flocked to the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University to present a one-minute pitch to producers from the popular ABC reality show. Contestants lined the sidewalk along McNair Hall on Saturday morning, May 30. Many of them arrived the night before, driving through the night, some from as far away as California.

With their dreams on display, contestants waited, recited their pitches over and over and shared their ideas with neighbors in line. Some wore three-piece suits. Others wore shorts and T-shirts, socks and sandals. One woman displayed her prayer stool. Another modeled her Bug Me Not, a fashionable mosquito netting jumpsuit. One man showed his Coolerbobs, waterproof lights for a cooler. One team wore T-shirts that read: Puzzi, more than just a puzzle.





 


“It’s fun to see everyone else’s stuff,” one person said. “But it’s making me even more nervous.”

From 8–10 a.m., Rice alumni and students were ushered into the holding room, aka Anderson Family Commons, by Shark Tank production staff for a private casting call . “You only get to pitch one thing. You can’t get back in line and pitch something else.” They called the one-minute pitch an interview. “We want to get to know you,” they said.

In the hallway on the second floor outside 214, a classroom for MBAs during the school year, alumni awaited their turn to transform their dreams into dollar signs. One Jones School alumnus presented his meat stimulator, a consumer product that neutralizes the gamey taste of meat. He and his posse had shirts that read: I like my meat stimulated.

Janice and her 16-year-old son Connor, who was in a wheel chair, presented custom wheel chair wheel covers. “I’m an introvert,” she said. “This is hard for me. But when she came out five minutes later, she was smiling. “It was like a mini shark tank. I didn’t really do my pitch. They started asking questions. They got it. They were very respectful. Conscientious. In the moment. It was calm.”

At 10 a.m. brightly colored wrist bands with numbers on them were distributed, dividing the contestants into regulated time slots. Blue was first, others could leave and come back at their specified times so people at the end of the line weren’t out in the heat and sun all day.

The first group of 100 contestants, family and friends in tow, crammed their way into Anderson Family Commons. The head of casting for Shark Tank spoke to the crowd. “Ten people will go up at a time. When you’re done you leave. Keep it classy, throw out your trash. Be excited. Don’t stress about doing that rehearsed speech. Focus on the conversation. We don’t care about what you’re pitching as much as we care about how you pitch it. What’s going to get you on the show is your story.”

Questions from the audience were about the next step. “So, you will get a call in the next two weeks if you’re going on to the next round.” He wrapped it up with the brutal facts. “Last year 40,000 people tried out. Only 150 made it in front of the sharks.” After that sobering moment, he added, “Your chances are as good as you are. Bring your passion and your products.”

Final rule, if you get the call. You’re not allowed to say so. So even if Janice’s company, Wheels of Fun, makes it to the next round, no one will know until next season airs.