Jaws dropped as original 'Shark Tank' celeb judged the UC New Venture Championship

1819 Innovation Hub hosted the shark encounter

The University of Cincinnati 1819 Innovation Hub embraced a unique guest — a shark, though not of the marine variety. Despite his penchant for hunting opportunities, this species shared no similarities with its aquatic counterpart.

Renowned as one of the original "sharks" from ABC's acclaimed series "Shark Tank," Kevin Harrington recently brought his expertise to the UC New Venture Championship 2024 as a judge.

The "Shark Tank"-inspired competition, hosted by the UC Center for Entrepreneurship, embraced Harrington, a Cincinnati native and former UC Bearcat, lending his insights to the challenge. Beyond his role on "Shark Tank," Harrington is celebrated globally as a speaker, author and mentor, solidifying his status as a prominent figure in the entrepreneurial world.

"Returning to my roots in Cincinnati brings a profound sense of fulfillment. As a former Bearcat, it's not just about revisiting familiar places but about embracing the joy of giving back. Sharing insights with students is more than just imparting knowledge; it's about igniting their potential and paying forward the opportunities that once shaped me,” Harrington said.

A seated man holding a microphone addresses student teams.

Kevin Harrington addresses student teams. Photo/Savannah Bumgarner

Diving into success

Often hailed as the trailblazer of infomercials, Harrington revolutionized the industry by cleverly repurposing untapped airtime on cable channels, transforming it into a groundbreaking concept and ultimately, a billion-dollar enterprise.

Becoming a leading entrepreneur and business luminary began in Harrington’s youth when he launched his first business endeavor — a driveway sealing operation — while still in high school. Over the course of more than three decades, he has pioneered over 500 products and ventures, driving entrepreneurial initiatives that have collectively generated an astounding $5 billion in global sales.

The student team, Girls CANN, pitches their idea to judges. LtoR Caroline Trennepohl and Nick Maurer.            Photo/Savannah Bumgarner

The student team, Girls CANN, pitches their idea to judges. Pictured, left to right, are Caroline Trennepohl and Nick Maurer. Photo/Savannah Bumgarner

Fast pitches

Emulating the TV show, UC student entrepreneurs showcased their innovative business concepts, services and technological advancements in a brief presentation that lasted no more than six minutes.

They pitched their ideas to Harrington and the esteemed panel of judges, including Chuck Hall, principal and chairman of Vitality Living; Abby McInturf, co-founder of Band Connect; Rob Richardson, founder of DisruptNow; and Tony Zingale, investor, UC board member, Serial CEO — each vying for a portion of a $20,000 cash prize.

Judges stand with UC leadership. Pictured, left to right, are Kate Harmon, Tony Zingale, Ryan Hays, Chuck Hall, Abby McInturf, Kevin Harrington and Rob Richardson. Photo/Diana Lara

Judges stand with UC leadership. Pictured, left to right, are Kate Harmon, Tony Zingale, Ryan Hays, Chuck Hall, Abby McInturf, Kevin Harrington and Rob Richardson. Photo/Diana Lara

Nine student teams pitched to judges:

  1. Motiv: Streamlining communications between student-athletes, coaches and parents
  2. PhizzIO: Automating the physical therapy industry to increase patient outcomes
  3. Girls CAN: White-labeled platform to provide mentorship to women and girls
  4. Minnow: IOT device that detects and automates pool chemical needs
  5. bēginn: Prenatal planning platform
  6. CaTable: Physical game table for board games
  7. X-inator: CleanTech energy solution 
  8. ParkEV: Airbnb for electrical vehicle charging​
  9. Junietta: Portable music synthesizer​

“Having a globally recognized Bearcat founder like Kevin Harrington engaged with our center’s signature business competition, New Venture Championship, was a thrilling opportunity for our young entrepreneurs,” said Kate Harmon, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. “Our student founders were excited to gain insight, guidance and learning from the man who launched and scaled so many recognized household products that have gone on to become legendary, best-selling brands.”

Fin-tastic wins

Panelists tune in to student pitches before deliberating.

Panelists tune in to student pitches before deliberating. Photo/Savannah Bumgarner

Following the presentations, judges provided constructive feedback and posed questions to the entrepreneurs, guiding them toward refinement.

Ultimately, the judges deliberated and selected the winning entries based on merit and potential.

Not surprisingly, Harrington’s success with marketing various types of products made him a key person of influence throughout different sectors. UC student teams kept their fingers crossed that Harrington might have found his next big product during the UC competition. 

Featured image at top: Kevin Harrington promo shot. Photo/Kevin Harrington

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The University of Cincinnati is leading public urban universities into a new era of innovation and impact. Our faculty, staff and students are saving lives, changing outcomes and bending the future in our city's direction. Next Lives Here.

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