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University of Miami Hopefuls Come in Search of a Bite from the ‘Sharks’

March 08, 2016
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josh waxman with lee's hoagies

Josh Waxman, BBA ’18, presenting his hometown's hoagies
to the Shark Tank producers

As the unmistakable aroma of Italian hoagies filled the air, Josh Waxman (BBA ’18) stood before three Shark Tank producers in a faculty lounge at the School of Business Administration and prepared his beloved hometown sandwiches with ingredients his dad had shipped overnight from Philadelphia, where his family owns some restaurants.

“It’s my dream to bring hoagies to Florida!” Waxman tells them. “None of my friends here have ever had a hoagie or a cheesesteak, and it’s crazy! They ask me every day when I’m going to open up Lee’s Hoagie House here.”

Waxman wants to open 16 Florida stores over the next three years, and he wants the producers to give him the chance to appear on the critically acclaimed business show that gives entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their businesses to self-made moguls who decide whether to invest. He wants to ask a Shark for $1 million, in exchange for a 25 percent stake in the Florida restaurants.

While the producers played it close to the vest, they did enjoy their hoagies. “How old are you?” Mindy Zemrak, the casting manager, asked him. “You have a lot of energy and determination for someone your age!”

His pitch was one of 26 that producers heard in a casting call open only to University of Miami students, alumni, faculty and staff. “We liked everyone!” Zemrak said. “There was a variety of businesses. We had people who were startups, people who had concepts, people who had proven sales, and everything in between – and the Sharks invest in all that stuff!”

Technology-related pitches dominated the day, including an app centered on linking online daters with activities they can do together and an app allowing users to courier anything from an Ikea couch to an envelope across town, tracking it on their phones. “You’re like someone’s younger brother willing to drive it over! I like it,” casting associate Brent Duncan said.

sue townsend with cabana capes

Sue Townsend, BBA ’82, brought her daughter dressed in her
invention, the Cabana Cape.

In case the producers wanted something to complement their hoagies, there was handcrafted ice cream (“comes in 30 flavors!”) and sorghum (“the ancient grain of the future!”). Producers heard from Bob Petrucci (BBA ’88), aka Farmer Bob, who wants a Shark to invest in his fresh hearts of palm product so he can create labels and do what’s necessary to bring it into all Whole Foods stores.

They met Sue Townsend (BBA ’82) and her young daughter, Alex, who took the morning off school to model her mom’s creation, the Cabana Cape. It’s a wearable towel with pockets to hold beach gear. The experience served as a valuable lesson in entrepreneurship, her mother said, one that started when they left home at 5:30 a.m. to snag the second spot in line. Another fashion-inspired pitch came from Alex Cantwell (BBA ’15), who designed wireless headphones.

Everyone was hoping to follow in the footsteps of Jordan Barrocas (MBA ’11) and his filet mignon beef jerky business, Three Jerks Jerky, chosen by producers who came to campus last year. In an episode that aired in November 2015, Barrocas and his partner walked away with a deal from Daymond John: $100,000 for 15 percent, with an option for another $100,000 for another 15 percent.

“For them to select the University of Miami as the place to come and source potential new companies and entrepreneurs to be featured on Shark Tank is quite an honor,” said Susana Alvarez-Diaz, who coordinated the event as director of entrepreneurship programs at the University of Miami School of Business Administration. “It says a lot about our University.”

As all the hopefuls wait two weeks for a call that they’ve made it to the next round, maybe Waxman’s friends can finally sample the hoagies they’ve heard so much about. The producers got their fill – and he still had 30-plus pounds to spare.

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