Londonderry Inventioneers strike a deal during Shark Tank appearance
LONDONDERRY - When the ABC television show "Shark Tank" premiered in summer 2009, six teenage engineers were watching and dreaming from their Londonderry living rooms.
"We'd often joke about it, about what we'd do if we got a chance to be on the show," said Tristan "T.J." Evarts, 17, one of the founding members of the Inventioneers. The group is a FIRST Lego League team whose award-winning invention, the SMART Wheel, is due to go into production later this year.
"Be careful what you wish for," said Evarts, who created the driving safety device with the help of teammates Emily Balcom, 16, Kate Balcom, 15, Bryeton Evarts, 12, Jaiden Evarts, 13 and Paige Balcom, 18.
The SMART Wheel is an electronic steering wheel cover that senses driver hand position and provides instant feedback to alert the driver to unsafe positioning. The Inventioneers are the reigning FIRST Lego League world champions and New Hampshire's four-time reigning state champions.
Over the past four years the team has obtained four provisional patents on its inventions and the SMART Wheel has been test driven at the White House by both President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.
With such an impressive resume, it turns out the talented teens didn't have to track down the producers of Shark Tank. The producers found them.
Technically, the producers called the Inventioneers not once, but twice. When the producers of the show contacted the six home-schooled kids in 2011, the teammates decided to hold off on Hollywood for the time being, opting instead to further refine their invention. But when the show called again last May, the Inventioneers were finally ready for the small screen.
This past September the teammates and their parents spent a week in California for the production of a Shark Tank episode. The TV series features a panel of entrepreneurs and business executives who consider offers from inventors seeking hefty investments for their products, inventions or businesses.
According to team member Kate Balcom, the show's producers chose the Inventioneers from a pool of over 30,000 applicants.
Filming on Season Four, Episode 16 wrapped in just a day, with much preparation and Skypeing with show producers in the weeks leading up to the big moment.
"We wanted to make sure our sales pitch was perfect," Evarts said.
The toughest part of the show was the question-and-answer session, as the teammates were put on the spot in front of the cameras.
"It was really about pitching our product, showing what the program is about and letting our personalities shine through," Evarts said. "I felt pretty confident about it."
Several weeks after filming the episode, Hollywood film crews arrived in Londonderry to shoot footage of the teammates. From there, the teens were sworn to secrecy about the episode's outcome until the show aired last week. Not even Lisa Evarts, one of the team's adult advisors, knew what happened in front of the camera until then, as parents weren't allowed at the show's filming.
Fortunately, the teammates, who all share a close bond, had each other to share their nervous excitement with.
"It's definitely good that we were able to talk to each other and talk often," T.J. Evarts said.
Appearing before the judges, there were definitely some tense moments. One judge challenged them by noting the SMART Wheel doesn't actually stop drivers from taking their hands off the wheel, it only alerts them. T.J. Evarts calmly informed the sharks that President Obama had tried out the product and even requested a SMART Wheel for the first daughters. T.J. and his teammates had the pictures to prove it.
Robert Herjavec and Mark Cuban partnered to give the Inventioneers $100,000 for a 30-percent stake in the SMART Wheel. The episode is online at http://abc.go.com/shows/shark-tank/.
For more information on the SMART Wheel, visit the team's website at smartwheelusa.com.