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University of Missouri

Tigers in the Shark Tank

Watch MU alumni take their new product to ABC’s Shark Tank.

brothers Kevin and Brian Fleming

Kevin, left, and Brian will pitch their invention to the investors on the ABC reality show Shark Tank on Oct. 5, 2012, at 7 p.m. CST. Photo courtesy of Kevin Fleming.

Kevin Fleming was a stay-at-home dad when he showed his brother, Brian Fleming, one of his many ideas turned inventions. Constructed out of Popsicle sticks and gaffer tape, it was a contraption Kevin could use to cart water to and from the dog park for his family’s dog. Brian saw the dog bowl, but he saw a lot more, too.

Kevin, BA ’97, and Brian, BGA ’99, of Kansas City, Mo., have spent more than 18 months working on a prototype, elevator pitch and sales proposal for BagBowl, and they’re pitching it to investors on the ABC reality series Shark Tank Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, at 7 p.m. CST.

Each hour-long episode of Shark Tank introduces entrepreneurs to a panel of five investors, ranging from a millionaire in the fashion industry to a billionaire in the software industry. The innovators pitch their product or service to the investors and ask for a cash investment in exchange for a percentage of their company. Negotiations ensue, and a deal is made or all investors pull out. In the past season, the Sharks invested more than $6.2 million to new products and ideas. The Fleming brothers were hoping to incite a bidding war over the BagBowl.

BagBowls filled with snacks

Kevin Fleming, BA ’97, originally developed the BagBowl as a way to get water to the dog park, but his brother, Brian Fleming, BGA ’99, quickly saw it as a great container for snacks at tailgates. Photo courtesy of Kevin Fleming.

A long way from its beginnings as a homemade art project in 2010, the BagBowl is a plastic sleeve that turns an ordinary re-sealable bag into a bowl. “You pop [the BagBowl] in from the sides, drop the bag in, invert the sides of the bag and slide them down the bowl,” Brian says.

Kevin adds: “It gives structure to the amorphous blob that is a Ziploc bag. There is nothing else like it out there.”

Although Kevin presented the BagBowl to Brian as a dog-related product, Brian saw the potential to be much greater. “We think it would be great for a tailgate at a Mizzou game because there is no clean up,” Brian says. “You can toss the bag, fold the BagBowl and throw it in your car. Then you’re not coming back to the science experiment in your trunk after you leave dip [in a plastic container] in your car.”

The BagBowl starter set, which sells for $8.99, comes with eight bowls in four sizes — standard sandwich (2), quart (3), 1 gallon (2) and 2 gallon (1) — and folds down to thickness of about two stacked quarters for easy storage.

The pair spent months and $30,000 of their own money taking the BagBowl to tradeshows, building up proof of concept and trying a direct marketing campaign that didn’t gain traction. As a long shot, Brian applied to be on Shark Tank. “It’s a demonstrable product,” Brian says. “We have to teach people how it’s used, but you understand it right when you see it.”

After “crickets and tumbleweeds,” they finally heard back from the producers and bought their plane tickets to Los Angeles for the filming in July 2012, Kevin says. To prepare, they watched every episode of Shark Tank — the series is four seasons in — and spent about eight weeks perfecting their pitch. The day of the pitch was filled with “elation and exhaustion,” Kevin says.

Walking into the tank, the brothers knew they wanted to target Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and co-owner of Landmark Theaters, for his ties to the consumer packaged goods space, specifically with candy and snack manufacturers, and Lori Greiner, QVC-TV personality, for her prolific profile of more than 350 retail inventions.

Although they can’t say anything about the outcome of their pitch, Brian says: “They don’t call it the Kitty Tank. They’re not there to make you comfortable. They’re there to get the information from you and make sure [the investment] is worth their hard-earned dollars.”

About 150 friends and will gather Friday night at The Well in Kansas City to watch the outcome of Kevin and Brian’s hard work.

Whether they landed the big investor, the two are committed to marketing and product development. With six kids under 5 between the two of them, launching their next company, Daddio, made perfect sense. The first product is a Spill Stopper Training Cup designed to minimize spills in the kitchen when a toddler is transitioning from a Sippy cup to a regular cup.

The whole soul of what were trying to do is not to bring one-offs of existing products,” Kevin says. “The criteria to make a product go forward is that it has to be unique, useful and offered at a price point that the modern consumer will find attractive and will actually be a solution to one of life’s nuisances.”

The Fleming brothers hook a $40,000 deal in the Shark Tank

Kevin and Brian Fleming walked out of the Shark Tank with a few teeth marks in their presentation, a stronger relationship as brothers and a $40,000 deal with QVC queen Lori Greiner. In an episode that aired on ABC Oct. 5, the Flemings pitched the BagBowl, an exoskeleton that turns a re-usable bag into a sturdy bowl, to investors asking for $40,000 in exchange for 33 percent stake in their company. After an animated presentation that included Brian calling Mark Cuban “Cubes” — and which immediately had Cuban calling it quits — the brothers hooked the one investor they were hoping to impress: Greiner.

When Lori saw Robert’s [Herjavec] offer and gave us exactly what we were looking for, it was utter jubilation in my heart,” Kevin says.

Brian adds: “Everyone thinks their company is worth more, but we wanted to come in with realistic expectations because the partnership is just as important as the money.”

A partnership with Greiner means a possible segment on the home shopping network QVC, where she hosts the monthly live show Clever & Unique Creations by Lori Greiner. But for now, they are waiting to finalize the paperwork of the deal.

We are still in a due diligence process,” Brian says. “Both sides are super excited about the potential of this partnership.”

Kevin adds: “We should be hitting major retailers and QVC in the not too distant future and bringing BagBowl to every home across America.”

*This story was updated to include the results of the Oct. 5 episode of Shark Tank.