Shark Tank's Daymond John crowns safe farming startup U.Pitch winner

December 8, 2015

Seedslide, an Iowa-based agriculture tech startup, won $5,000 at last night’s Future Founders U.Pitch competition hosted in partnership with Capital One.

The company’s product was described by panel judge Daymond John of Shark Tank fame as “a can opener” for industrial-sized seed boxes. It's remote-controlled, allowing farmers to open the boxes — which can weigh up to 3,000 lbs — from a safe distance, reducing the risk of accidents in the process.

“Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations, according to the Department of Labor,” said Joshua Doering, Seedslide founder and student at Morningside College. “Falls put farmers out of their ability to work and provide for their families.”

Having grown up on a farm, Doering recalled watching his father and his grandfather scaling slippery farm equipment to open these boxes by hand. He decided to come up with an idea that leveraged technology to make farming safer.

Shark Tank for youngsters

U.Pitch is an elevator pitch competition and showcase specifically for collegiate entrepreneurs. In its second year, the showcase’s panel of judges included Daymond John, investor and co-star of ABC’s Shark Tank.

Having first cut his entrepreneurial teeth in the 1990s as the founder of FUBU, a streetwear brand worn by hip hop icons like L.L. Cool J and Busta Rhymes, John has since become a serial investor. John has seen thousands of pitches over the years, and thus developed a keen sense of what to listen for.

“The first thing I look for is, can the founder relay the concept to me in a very short, precise way,” said John. “If it’s too complicated for me to get, most likely it’s too complicated for me to sell.”

In addition, he’s looking for products that resonate with him personally.

“But if I don’t see a need for it in the market, that doesn’t mean I’m right,” John said. “That’s why you often hear us say ‘Hey, you know what? I may be right or wrong. Let me hear about your sales.’”

During the Q&A following Doering’s pitch, John pointed out that there weren’t many farms in Hollis, Queens, where he grew up. But with 30 farmers willing to pay $500 apiece for prototypes, and ongoing talks with major farm equipment distributors, the young entrepreneur sold the panel of judges on his idea.

Coconut openers and TV mounts for collegiates

Runners up in the competition included Cocovana, a device that allows users to open coconuts in seconds, and HUK TV Mounts, whose product is compatible with the lofted beds ubiquitous in American colleges’ infamously crammed dorm rooms.

Cocovana founder Sheldon Barrett of the University of Florida said coconut water was one of America’s fastest growing beverages. He has already gathered 700 pre-orders for his patented product, and is looking to get a few hundred more before setting up a Kickstarter campaign.

The panel of judges awarded Cocovana and HUK TV Mounts $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.

Young entrepreneurs "more about converting sales"

John believes young entrepreneurs today are radically different from those in his startup days:

“Because of their digital devices, they’re working 24 hours a day. About 20 years ago, I was chained to my desk, and the phone was at my desk, and if I wasn’t there, I wasn’t able to get the communication.”

“They’re not spending their money on a lot of the things that traditional businesspeople used to. You know ‘I need a big office, I need a big car,’ this and that. They’re more about converting sales, learning new technologies, and finding ways to talk directly to their customers. And that’s exactly what we’re here today to emphasize.”

Photo via Capital One and Future Founders.

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