Last Wednesday evening at Velocity, Awesome Inc. hosted the inaugural Louisville 5Across pitch contest.
Five startup companies gave five-minute pitches to judges to compete for a $500 prize.
While there were app companies and tech companies in the running, as always, it was a product company that took home the prize.
And this was a surprise on many levels.
Todd Scheleuning has developed a framing system for T-shirts that allows you to frame a shirt in 30-seconds without cutting or otherwise destroying the shirt. You can display your concert tees, your marathon tees, your sports team tees on the wall as art.
It’s shirt art. So he named the company “Shart.”
I know what you’re thinking. I thought so too. Why in the world would anyone name their product “Shart”?
I sat down with Schleuning last week to find out.
Just to be sure we’re on the same page, even if you don’t know what “Shart” means, it sounds a little gross, right?
But the (colloquial) definition is that it’s a rather obscene Portmanteau of crass words for defecation and passing gas. (It’s what happens when you think you’re doing one of those things, when you’re actually doing the other.)
But type “Shart” into Google, and you’ll discover that Schleuning’s three-month old company comes up fourth in the search.
“The only time we dropped much below that was when Al Roker admitted that he once sharted in the White House,” says Schleuning.
Such are the dangers of gastric bypass surgery.
“Hundreds of thousands of times a month people Google ‘shart,'”says Schleuning. “And let’s face it, no one is trying to do SEO on ‘shart.’ No one.”
Shart is also listed third on YouTube when you search “how to frame a T-shirt.”
Schleuning isn’t dug in about the name. He understands there could be challenges, especially if they try to appeal mass-market retailers like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby (pretty sure the notoriously conservative Hobby Lobby folks would want none of that).
But he says what the rest of us are thinking: “This is either going to be the worst name ever or the best name ever.”
And he and his family have invested about $25,ooo into a belief that it’s the latter.
This is very much a family business.
The idea arose when Schleuning’s wife wanted to frame a music festival T-shirt but discovered she had to cut up the shirt to do it attractively. Schleuning and his wife met at Woodstock ’94, and she wanted to give him the framed shirt as an anniversary gift.
The Schleunings are regulars on the music festival circuit and their souvenir shirts cluttered their closest and drawers. “These are memories,” says Schleuning.
The Louisville native is an Eastern High School and Bellarmine grad. He and his wife have three daughters that are as excited about the business as their dad is and often get in on the Shart fun.
Maybe you saw them at Bonnaroo or Forecastle Festival? If you saw them, you’d surely remember because they dressed like this:
The family also stars in the video they submitted to the television show “Shark Tank.” (Embedding video is not allowed, but do check it out.) Shart has made it through several rounds of auditions. If they are accepted to the show, they expect a call later this month or in September.
The Shart system consists of a shadowbox frame and a patent-pending closed cell polyethylene insert. It is museum quality packing material that is also recyclable.
The frames are currently sourced from two separate providers. It was Scheleuring’s wish to have all parts of the frame be U.S.-made. But the price point of U.S.-made frames was too high unless you can buy them in massive quantities.
Rather than give up on the idea entirely, Scheleuring decided to offer two different frames: a more expensive wooden frame made right here in Louisville by Bluegrass Frames and a less expensive, high-quality molded plastic frame imported from a company in China.
Right now, the U.S.-made product is on sale on the website for $78, including shipping. Once the 1000 frames that Shart ordered from China have made it to Louisville – likely September – you’ll be able to purchase the less expensive (but still very high quality– these things are sturdy!) frame for $35.99.
Schleuning is partial owner of Labor Works on Preston Highway. It’s a temporary labor firm that is his family’s business.
He’s also a children’s book author who more than fully-funded a Kickstarter at the end of 2012 for his series called “The Misphits.” The series about a community of animals who lack the ability to do what that animal is known for– a snake that can’t slither, a lion who’s timid, a turtle without a shell– who work together to make Animal Elementary accessible to all kinds of animal kids.
The first book in the series, “The Story of Snake,” will be out in less than two months.
On one level, Schleuning’s success at 5Across and with “Shark Tank” can be attributed to his personality. He’s a gracious and quirky guy who stands out in startup circles. But the product itself is sturdy, eco-friendly, thoughtfully constructed and does what it promises to do.
This was the 22nd 5Across and the first hosted in Louisville. Brian Raney, founder of Awesome Inc., served as the emcee for the event. The judges were serial enterpreneur Steve Huey, Justin Suer of Ivy Tech and Dan Owen of Elevate Ventures.
The other competitors:
Last Call Ventures: “Party without the pain.” Faveo is a 2-ounce patent pending hangover prevention drink. Most hangover “cures” treat the symptoms, but this drink– which you can drink straight or use as a mixer– prevents the hangover. Cameron Lippert, a physician from Lexington, presented.
Lorinth’s Lab: Brings video game-style leaderboard technology to laser tag and paintball. Gamers can play laser tag in any of the approved arenas, and their experience points and scores will follow them from game to game. Future plans have the company taking laser tag and paint ball out of arenas and into parks and public areas. Lorinth’s Lab is currently in residence at the Founder’s Lab accelerator and is based in Lexington.
Solar Site Design: Out of Nashville and winner of the audience choice award. Solar project development app that helps solar professionals with customer acquisition. Solar Site Design app captures the on-site data necessary to begin the estimating and solar design process. The company is currently part of the Village Capital Venture Well accelerator.
Where the Trucks At?: This real-time, GPS-driven food truck locator app placed second in the fall Louisville Startup Weekend. Will Bogel presented. The app went live in July and the company is looking to scale into other cities in the region soon.