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Inventors take Cellhelmet to 'Shark Tank'

by on March 06, 2013 7:00 AM

Slip, whack, thud.

Dead.

It’s the cruel fate that’s befallen countless thousands of expensive iPhones over the years, and it’s a misery that a group of area entrepreneurs has set out to conquer.

Thus the newly developed line of sturdy, colorful iPhone jackets called Cellhelmets.

Snug and slim, they appear at first glance like any number of other phone covers on the market. But the Cellhelmet developers, including David Eldridge, of Blairsville, and Mike Kane, of Latrobe, say their jacket stands out because they guarantee that it will help your iPhone live to text another day.

It’s a daring claim, and America will learn this weekend if some business-savvy millionaires are willing to put their money where Cellhelmet’s mouth is.

The Cellhelmet guys will be on national television to pitch their phone jacket on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank,” in a program airing Friday evening.

“Shark Tank” features a panel of deep-pocketed celebrities who listen to fledgling business owners outline their plans to get new products and services on the market. After hearing the pitches, the celebrities decide whether to personally bankroll the new small companies.

“It was just a surreal experience,” Kane said of the recent taping in Los Angeles. Those appearing on “Shark Tank” are told to keep the outcome of their appearance confidential until it airs, so Kane and Eldridge aren’t allowed to say whether anyone agreed to invest in Cellhelmet.

“Basically, you pitch your idea, stating that you need money for investment. In return you’re willing to give up an equity position in your company for that shark to help take you to the next level,” Kane said.

“We pitched our company for a number that I can’t give you,” Kane said. “We offered an equity position in our company. And the show is, basically, the sharks argue with one another, they argued with us over our numbers, and the validity of the company. … And you’re standing there in front of 11 ABC cameras and five very rich celebrities.”

Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Lori Greiner, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Hershbeck grilled Kane and his partners in one of three featured segments compiled for Episode 417 of “Shark Tank.” Other entrepreneurs brought ideas for “a workout program that teaches people how to exercise in their heart rate zone; (and) throwing dance parties for kids with a traveling disco van,” according to the ABC TV website.

The Cellhelmet team brings some business experience into the smartphone jacket venture. Eldridge, a 1999 graduate of Blairsville High School, went on to get a degree in business at Duquesne University, and partnered with a friend to begin Eldridge Communications, a Verizon cellphone dealership with 14 stores in the Pittsburgh area.

Eldridge said the Cellhelmet is different because of the customer service component.

“We originally started trying to make a truly indestructible case, but the cases ended up being too big and bulky for people to like and be comfortable with,” Eldridge said. “So now we don’t really claim for it to be indestructible. It’s slim and pocketable, and anyone would use it. It appeals to all groups of people.

“The unique thing about our case is … just that we stand behind it, and no other case in the world does that. There are a thousand accessory manufacturers out there, and no other will cover your phone if it gets damaged inside the case. And that’s how we got on ‘Shark Tank.’”

Cellhelmet covers are manufactured in Latrobe and the company has arranged for repair facilities “all over the United States,” Eldridge said, to serve damage claims.

The company also is developing jackets for iPods and screen protectors for iPads.

Kane said people from the “Shark Tank” production company approached them about a year ago — not to formally invite Cellhelmet onto the show, but to get them interested in the process.

“It by no means secured our future,” Kane said. “We spent five months courting them, sending emails and new videos almost daily, until we got the call one day. They said to be on the plane on Sunday.”

The show was taped five months ago, according to Kane, and only recently were they allowed to start promoting their appearance.

Regardless of how the celebrity venture capitalists react to the Cellhelmet pitch, Kane said, just getting on the program is a benefit to their company.

“Our company is in a very good position right now and we’ll have some good updates after the show. But we are really excited about the opportunity to expose our company to 7 million sets of eyes,” Kane said. “Even if we had a big (advertising) budget, we wouldn’t be able to afford that.

“Having 10 to 15 minutes on ABC TV in front of 7 million people — I can’t imagine what it would cost. It’s just surreal.”

Online: www.cellhelmet.com

http://abc.go.com/shows/shark-tank



Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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