Grad to be shark bait

Brandon Zeris, Editor-in-Chief

Pitt-Johnstown alumnus Mike Kane is to make an appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank” March 8 to pitch his cell phone accessory company to a panel of venture capitalists.

The show features entrepreneurs who present their product or business to potential investors with hopes of convincing one of them to provide financing aid and expertise to boost sales.

Kane, cellhelmet CEO, said that the show’s producers learned of the company and contacted him about a year ago to discuss a show appearance.

“It was a lot of work … it was five months back and forth of pitching.”

Producers notified Kane that they had selected his company to appear. The show was filmed in September, Kane said, noting that he is unable to reveal whether he got the outcome from investors he sought.

“We got a call to come out to film it … It was shot in (Los Angeles).”

Kane said his company’s flagship product is a protective iPhone case.

Buyers are given a year of accidental damage insurance when they register their product on the cellhelmet website. If an iPhone is damaged accidentally, while inside the case, it will be repaired or replaced by the company, according to its website.

“We’re still the only company that offers accidental damage coverage to a phone,” Kane said. “We have a truly unique product.”

To prepare his “Shark Tank”  presentation, Kane said he got help from his former Pitt-Johnstown business professors.

Kane gave a private-practice presentation to former UPJ professor Ron Vickroy and current UPJ professors John McGrath and Neelima Bhatnagar.

“We did the closed-door pitch in September, before filming, and told them to keep quiet,” Kane said, adding that show producers told him not to make an announcement until Feb. 15.

“I wanted to talk to those three from the start,” he said. “They were big influences in college, and they offered some great advice.”

Vickroy said he thought  the pitch was well-developed.

“It certainly caught my attention,” he said.

“We gave them a few suggestions … in general, anticipate investor questions, think like a lender and consider using more visuals and props.”

McGrath said he’s not surprised that Kane has been successful.

“Long before we had an entrepreneur course at UPJ, Mike was starting up and running his own business – while still in school,” he said.

Despite his initial success, Kane said his company could use the national exposure that comes with being on the show along with a potential investment from entrepreneurs.

“The show airs to 7 million viewers, and the show will have 15 minutes dedicated to our company,” he said. “I can’t even begin to explain how valuable this exposure is to us. You can’t buy that.”