SmartWheel Before Shark Tank
SmartWheel is a high-tech gadget, invented by a unique group of entrepreneurs with one sole purpose. To improve the safety of young people on the road.
There’s one thing that most of us do on a regular basis, and it’s usually the most dangerous activity any of us undertake, but very few of us ever worry about the danger. That hazardous past-time is travelling by car and it’s the biggest non-health related killer in Western society, and by far the biggest group at risk are young and inexperienced drivers.
A group of six young entrepreneurs from New Hampshire resolved to tackle the problem, and their solution was a serious analysis of the factors that cause accidents, and the design of a high-tech product that would help younger drivers keep their mind on driving, and their car on the road.
That might all sound fairly run-of-the-mill for Shark Tank applicants, but when you consider that the entrepreneurs in question were all aged between twelve and eighteen when they developed their innovative new product, then the calibre of this particular group of young business people becomes even more impressive.
The group comprised of sisters Paige, Emily and Kate Balcom, and siblings TJ, Jaiden and Breyton Evarts. They had formed a group called the Inventioneers, originally for the simple purpose of competing in a Lego building competition, but that innocent start had soon led to far more serious business plans.
The Inventioneers developed a prototype of a steering wheel that would encourage young drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. The group applied for utility patents on their invention, but required far more capital in order to see their dream of completing the manufacturing process, and turning the SmartWheel into a finished product.
SmartWheel On Shark Tank
The inventioneers came before the sharks in February 2013 to pitch their life-saving product to the sharks. They were hoping to gain an investment of $100,000, in exchange for 15% of the SmartWheel company, and all the benefits that a Shark partner would bring to the business.
The pitch began with an explanation of the dangers of distracted driving. TJ told the sharks that eighteen teenagers a day died in car accidents every day in the United States alone, and one of the main causes of accidents was when a young driver took his or her hands off of the steering wheel.
Fortunately the Inventioneers had the answer, they had developed the SmartWheel to sound an alarm whenever a driver took their hands away from the nine and three positions, it would train a driver to hold the wheel properly, and snap a driver back into focus if they became distracted. Jaiden revealed that the device was able to record such habits so that parents could review their childrens driving activity at any time.
After the pitch Mark Cuban was quick to ask if the SmartWheel was a finished product yet. TJ admitted that it was still a prototype currently, but if the group obtained a $100,000 investment in the tank, they intended to spend 75% of the funding to complete the manufacturing process.
Robert Herjavec asked what the sales strategy was, once the final product was in production. TJ told him that the first stage would be to sell the SmartWheel online, and in the long term the company would be looking to retail the product through outlets such as Big Box stores.
Barbara Corcoran inquired what the cost of the unit was. TJ admitted that the exact cost price was not known at that stage, but it was likely to be around $50 per unit, the company was planning to set the retail price at approximately $200 per unit.
So far things had been going well for the young group of entrepreneurs, but Kevin O’Leary had something to say, and the kid gloves were off. Mr Wonderful had a problem with the functionality of the SmartWheel, it sounded an alarm and could record a drivers hands moving off the wheel, but it didn’t acutally stop the driver moving their hands, he suggested a modification of an electric shock instead of an alarm as a deterrent to bad driving. The inventioneers laughed dutifully at Kevin’s comment, although I’m not entirely sure he was joking.
Mark Cuban asked if the SmartWheel had undergone any testing in trials. Breyton, the youngest of the inventioneers revealed that the product had been tested, and at MIT of all places. The sharks looked impressed as she continued, informing them that 98% of MIT testers had believed the product would improve road safety.
TJ saw the sharks were impressed, but he was about to give them something to be impressed about. He revealed that the Inventioneers had been invited to The White House, and had met President Obama in their role as young innovators of the future. The president had expressed a desire to get a SmartWheel for his own daughter when it became available.
Daymond John told the entrepreneurs that he would love to ‘Be a part of this’, but he sounded genuinely regretful as he admitted that he had no experience of electrical manufacturing. He believed he would bring no real value to the business, and with that, Daymond was out.
Barbara Corcoran wasn’t buying the whole concept. She believed that the product could be removed too easily, and she particularly disliked the reporting facility of the device. TJ tried to defend the functionality of the SmartWheel but Barbara was not going to change her mind. With a final assertion that ‘Kids don’t want parents looking over their shoulders’ Barbara dropped out of the negotiations.
Kevin O’Leary admired the achievements of the inventioneers. He congratulated them on taking something from ‘An idea to the White House’, but then he dropped his façade of humanity, and the shark shone through. ‘Just imagine how impressed I’d be if you had a good idea’ he said, as TJ’s smile disappeared. He suggested that the group return to the tank when they were older, and had designed something useful. He told them he would write them a check on that day, ‘But not today’. With that unexpectedly harsh dismissal of the SmartWheel itself, Kevin was out.
Robert Herjavec had defended the SmartWheel against Kevin O’Leary, and he was prepared to make an offer to the entrepreneurs now. He offered $100,000 in exchange for 30% equity in the business, but with the condition that he could arrange a licensing deal with a car company.
All the inventioneers looked pleased to have received an offer from Robert, but TJ played things cool. ‘Does anyone else want to come in with that offer?’ he asked the other Sharks.
‘What am I? Chopped Liver?’ asked Robert Herjavec, but he wasn’t offended, like his fellow Sharks he was admiring the young entrepreneurs self-control and professionalism.
Mark Cuban spoke up, he told Robert he was prepared to share the deal with him equally, but he wasn’t too concerned about attaching a condition regarding a licensing deal. He believed there were other options available to the business. He and Robert discussed the deal and eventually agreed that it should be for 30% equity, in exchange for $100,000 investment, with no added conditions. TJ quickly accepted the deal on behalf of the inventioneers.
SmartWheel Now in 2018 – The After Shark Tank Update
Sadly, after showing such resolve, determination to strike a deal, and exemplary negotiation skills in the Shark Tank, the Inventioneers, Robert, and Mark Cuban failed to agree on the final terms of their proposed deal.
The SmartWheel website posted an update to the segment in early 2014. Although the experience had been an inspiring and valuable experience for the whole team, and the company had been ‘thrilled’ to receive an offer, subsequent negotiations had failed, and the SmartWheel team decided to move forward without a Shark investor. No other explanation was offered, but clearly the SmartWheel business was still in need of an investor.
Shortly after it was announced that SmartWheel and the Sharks would not be forming a partnership, the business launched an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. They were seeking $50,000 in order to complete the manufacturing process. The campaign was not a great success, eventually gaining just over $2,000 in funding by the time it closed. Unfortunately it seems a few of the 39 backers were more than unhappy with the business after the campaign was over. One backer felt ‘ripped off’ after waiting more than a year for a SmartWheel and receiving no response to many inquiries.
After sifting through the well-presented and professional SmartWheel website, I eventually understood the problem, even though it had not been immediately obvious, the SmartWheel was not actually for sale yet, even now in 2018, more than three years after the inventioneers had first appeared on Shark Tank.
The SmartWheel Facebook page is well maintained, with many posts about the attention the idea has received in the media. The product has been featured on NBC’s Today show, MSNBC, and a number of other high-profile shows. The innovative design of the product, and its worthy focus on safety have both been extensively praised, but it is still unavailable to buy online, and despite an extensive search, I have been unable to find any retail outlets where it is available.
It would be surprising if a product as potentially useful and impressive as the SmartWheel does not eventually become widely available, and it would be nice to think that the final manufacturing hurdle will be overcome in the near future, but as of now, in 2016, we’ll have to keep focused behind the wheel without the help of those clever young inventioneers, and their equally smart wheel.