By Stef Tschida
When the Shark Tank Diversity Tour came to Minneapolis, Minnesota recently, dozens of local entrepreneurs got their big chance to pitch their businesses to the producers. My Founder Story caught up with four female founded businesses to hear about their experiences.
Vanessa Drews, Cheesecake Funk
This was Vanessa Drews’ second interaction with Shark Tank. The first time was a few years ago when she was invited by the show to submit a video about her business, but never heard back after sending it in. When Vanessa heard that auditions were coming to Minneapolis, she knew she had to try again.
If Shark Tank decides to invest in Vanessa’s business, it would be perfect timing. She just quit her full-time job in August 2019 to focus on growing Cheesecake Funk—her dessert company named in honor of Prince, who publicly proclaimed his love of her turtle cheesecake. At the time, Vanessa worked at Paisley Park, Prince’s famed estate and recording studio, and would bring cheesecakes in to work to share with her coworkers and guests at the property.
Shark Tank’s support would enable Vanessa to expand beyond the Twin Cities-based restaurants where she currently sells her cheesecake. She wants to build the capability to package and distribute her product, allowing her to ship nationwide and sell in grocery stores.
For Vanessa, the hardest part of this process hasn’t been the actual pitch to producers, it’s waiting for the phone to ring. “They said they don’t call with bad news, so I’m just praying I’ll hear something,” she said.
To learn more about Vanessa’s business, visit CheesecakeFunk.com.
Nikki Hollerich and Anna Hagen, Hagen and Oats
When Nikki Hollerich and Anna Hagen heard Shark Tank auditions were coming to Minneapolis, they immediately knew they wanted to apply—especially Nikki who is an avid fan of the show. Their business, Hagen and Oats, specializes in custom wood décor and signage. Investment from Shark Tank would enable them to build on the success of their handcrafted pet portraits by providing the resources to market them outside of their home state of Minnesota. The duo even showed off their work by bringing Shark Tank producers a custom-made portrait of “shark” Barbara Corcoran’s late Shih Tzu, Max.
The process was all consuming for Anna and Nikki in the days leading up to their audition. From crafting a 90-second pitch about their business, to researching every aspect of what to expect, the pair say they’re proud of the effort they put in, regardless of whether they advance to the next round. They described the producers as supportive and kind, and were honored to be part of the Diversity Tour, which focuses on recruiting diverse voices to appear on the show.
“It was so encouraging to look around and see so many women and people of color in the room,” Nikki shared. “It was a good reminder that there are many thriving businesses in our community that are super diverse.”
Kjersten Merila, Her Spirit Vodka
The hardest part of the Shark Tank auditions for Kjersten Merila was keeping her pitch to only 90 seconds. A natural conversationalist, Kjersten loves to convey her passion for her business, Her Spirit Vodka, and how it gives 50 percent of its profits to a different women-owned business each year. How could she possibly convey all of that in such a short time?
Kjersten continues to work a full-time day job while she grows her business, so every night after her 9 to 5, she’d sit down and refine her pitch. It paid off—while Kjersten didn’t get to say everything she would have wanted about her business, she did manage to stay on script and say everything she’d planned within the allotted time frame. And, she said it was helpful to be forced to articulate her business in a way she normally wouldn’t.
Shark Tank investment would allow Kjersten to take the immediate next steps to grow her business, from becoming certified as gluten free, to updating bottle labels to reflect that Her Spirit is woman owned. It would also help her expand from 1-liter bottles to other sizes, which is particularly important for selling in markets outside Minnesota.
Those who are invited to move on to round two of the audition process will likely be asked to submit a 10-minute video about their business, and share detailed information for financial and background checks. If the female entrepreneurs featured here are invited to continue in the process, My Founder Story will share updates about their experiences along the way.
About the author: Stef Tschida is a former corporate communicator and life-long storyteller. Stef’s WHY became clear when she worked at her daily campus newspaper. She realized she didn’t want to ask tough questions as a reporter—she wanted to help organizations answer those tough questions. She’s been doing that work ever since.