Judges Kartik Kamat, Jennifer Graham and Tendai Charasika. Emcee Zack Pennington.
Judges Kartik Kamat, Jennifer Graham and Tendai Charasika. Emcee Zack Pennington.

Twelve companies are competing for $10,000 in cash and services in the fifth annual Venture Sharks competition, which emcee Zack Pennington of U.S. Chia called “a blatant rip off of the television show ‘Shark Tank.'”

Each company gets five minutes to pitch their business idea in front of an audience and a team of judges, and the judges have five minutes for a Q&A with the presenter. Presenters may use props, but may not use a pitch deck or PowerPoint. The judges will advance four of the companies to the final round. The competition, sponsored by Venture Connectors, splits this preliminary round over the course of two days.

Last night six companies competed at the Nucleus Building. Tendai Charasika, CEO of SuperfanU and outgoing executive director of EnterpriseCorp.; Jennifer Graham, CEO of CuddleClones; and Kartik Kamat, vice president of operations for Granite America served as judges.

The companies:

Delano Brissett


Founder Delano Brissett, originally from New York City now living in Houston, enjoys taking MOOCs on sites like Khan Academy. A friend of his, who is an electrician, asked Brissett to recommend a course he might like to take. Brissett recommended philosophy, but his friend wanted something to help him advance his career. And that’s when Brissett realized that while there are many places online where you can take a MOOC in the humanities or technology, there is nowhere that offers online courses in trades.

That’s what Wynston aims to do. Brissett notes that there are millions of jobs left vacant because out of work people don’t have the necessary skills. The company will work with trade schools to create content and will charge employers to connect them to trainees.


Popplr is a cloud-based iOS that works the same on all devices. Riley Bright, founder, has self-funded this business to the tune of $200,000, according to their executive summary. You can take a photo with your smartphone and it will be available on your computer and tablet. The company aims to make money through charging for storage space.

The judges seemed skeptical that Popplr does something that can’t be done with other apps and programs already. Kamat was particularly critical of the fact that Bright has put so much money into the company without getting an MVP into the hands of beta testers. Bright countered that he’d conducted thousands of surveys and he understands what people want from this iOS.

Amelia Gandara
Amelia Gandara


Amelia Gandara and her team won this year’s Startup Weekend under the name “Me You Blue.” EcoHarbor creates “stylish, artistic concrete-based decorative and design products with an initial focus on backsplashes and tiles.” The company sources all of its materials from the Louisville area and uses recycled goods including glass and mirror. Gandara says concrete tiles are such a recent design development that the industry guidelines were just published last year.

In the past six weeks, the company has developed a relationship with LG&E to source their recycled fly-ash, and they have established a manufacturing relationship with Mosaic Tile Co. EcoHarbor also has two distributors who have promised to work with the company once the inventory is ready. They are also prepared to do custom work; for example, a restaurant might want a bar made with bourbon bottles recycled from their bar.


WadeZ is a Runkeeper for swimmers. Wifi does not transmit under water, so Evan Cruson has developed a system and applied for a patent on that system that you clip to your goggles and which tracks your swim and transmits data after you’re out of the water. Cruson admitted he was nervous and apologized profusely for reading from notes. He’s an avid swimmer who struggles with keeping track of laps when doing a long-distance swim. (He joked: “Obviously I struggle with public speaking too.”)

WadeZ will track your laps, your distance and your heart rate. Cruson predicts he could charge as much as $130 for the device, which could be manufactured for around $60. He’s trying to find team members who are as committed as he is to the idea. Cruson is a full-time student and owns a lawn care company.

Seth McBee
Seth McBee

You Saw Me

There are 9,900 pedestrian deaths in the U.S. each year, according to founder Seth McBee. He and his co-founder have created a reflective safety vest powered by LED lights. The former nuclear engineer started this company in 2009 and has been selling versions of the vest online and via eBay. He says the most common questions he gets are “Does it come in pink?” and “Do you make one for dogs?” So it seems while he originally planned to target athletes, his typical customer is a middle-aged woman.

The company received two patent grants last year. They also won a pitch competition for the Bluegrass Angels and were awarded $25,000. According to their website, they’re about to launch a Kickstarter campaign.

Recovery Station

Daniel Johnsen won the most recent Startup Weekend Lexington with Recovery Station, a gym kiosk that dispenses customizable protein and nutrition shakes. Since winning, he has continued to develop his team, which now includes a GE engineer and one of the engineers who bought Mayor Greg Fischer’s drink dispensing company, SerVend.

Johnsen deployed the first kiosk in the downtown YMCA yesterday and didn’t yet have the numbers from the day. He has requests from seven gyms to install the kiosk, but as he’s self-funding, he only has the ability to fund a new machine every couple of months. The protein shakes cost around $3 to $4.50 and there’s a 60 percent margin.

Johnsen’s presentation was the slickest of the evening.

Tonight six more companies will compete, and the winners of both nights will be announced. The event is at the Nucleus Building, 201 E. Jefferson. Networking starts at 5:30 p.m. and the event kicks off at 6 p.m.

The final round of Venture Sharks will be held at the monthly Venture Connectors lunch at the Muhammad Ali Center on May 7.