Carey Innovate Grad Strikes Deal on ABC's Shark Tank
Benjamin Young went from Blue Jay to shark bait.
In 2010, Young took part in the inaugural class of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Innovate program at the Montgomery County Campus. In February 2016, Young appeared on the ABC hit reality television show Shark Tank.
On Shark Tank, entrepreneurs pitch their products to a panel of investors, who individually decide whether to put money into the businesses, usually in exchange for a stake of the company. Young and his colleague Greg Coleman succeeded in persuading entrepreneur Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, to invest $1.5 million in their company in exchange for a 10 percent equity stake.
Young’s company is called Nexercise and is part of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development’s Business Innovation Network. Young and Coleman, through Nexercise, are trying to expand development of a fitness app called Sworkit.
Hopkins Happenings asked Young about his experience with Shark Tank and the Carey Innovate program. The Innovate program was a technology commercialization program funded by a National Science Foundation grant.
Hopkins Happenings: People watch reality TV shows, but very few people actually apply. How did you decide to apply, and what was the process like? Were you surprised when you were told you would be on the show?
Young: We were actually approached to be on the show. The show actively seeks interesting businesses with diverse founders whether they are African American like us, women, veterans, or even have a product made in America. All I can disclose is that the application process was long and tedious, where you need to fill out tons of forms and there’s a lot of stages of being potentially cut. Nothing is ever promised!
When we got the news we would be flying out to film we were ecstatic of course! We were even more excited when we heard that the show would actually be airing. They let you know only two weeks in advance, so there’s a lot of waiting.
Hopkins Happenings: Why did you apply to the Carey Innovate program? How did your experience in the Carey Innovate program help you build your business and help you make your pitch on the show?
Young: When I first started the entrepreneurial journey, I felt I needed a couple of key things, including motivation from like-minded people and mentors who had gone through similar experiences. We had started Nexercise, but I felt the Carey program would help me stay dedicated to moving things forward. Innovate introduced me to other amazing entrepreneurs, with whom I still remain in contact.
Hopkins Happenings: JHU alums have a lot of great, entrepreneurial ideas. What advice would you give a JHU alum who may be considering applying for Shark Tank specifically, and about taking a leap in general?
Young: I would highly suggest having a product that consumers can download / purchase / order / trial first. A majority of the businesses reach consumers, and that’s what the show really looks for. Second, if you’re serious about applying, they have a lot of open casting calls but if you want to skip that, I would suggest forming a good relationship with a prior person who has appeared on the show. You never know when a casting agent reaches out to one of us, asking us if we have we seen anything cool or interesting.
Hopkins Happenings: If our readers never heard of Nexercise and Sworkit, what should they know?
Young: Sworkit is the only fitness app on the market built like a music player that allows you to completely customize your workout experience. But instead of creating music playlists, Sworkit creates exercise playlists or sworkouts that function in the same, familiar manner. If you can listen to a music playlist, you can get a great workout, anywhere and anytime. It’s like the Spotify of Workout Apps. Spotify has something for everyone no matter what you are looking for. If you come to a workout move you don’t like, you can skip that move as easily as skipping a song, and still get a full workout. Our goal is to use our platform to continually publish both new exercise moves, and new playlists using those moves. Video workouts used to be static classes. Now it’s time for them to be adaptive based on your individual goals, location, injuries and even available equipment. Not only do we plan to be the Spotify for Workouts, we plan to be the Pandora too!
Hopkins Happenings: How will the Shark Tank experience – and money – help you build your business?
Young: It’s really helping us build our brand and continue being the leader in the video workout business.
Hopkins Happenings: Anything else you would like to add?
Young: Follow your dreams! Oh, and download Sworkit.