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Shark Tank: Sawyer Sparks Steals the Show
 

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I wasn't too interested in last night's episode of Shark Tank until the adorable Sawyer Sparks, founder of Soy-Yer-Dough in Bloomfield, Indiana, appeared onscreen in his introductory video, mixing up gluten-free modeling clay in his modest kitchen with his mom and girlfriend. As soon as he explained that he created the soy-based clay for kids with an allergy to wheat, an ingredient in Play-Doh, I knew the unassuming college kid had potential. I also loved the fact that he wanted to create jobs in his hometown. Still, when he walked into he shark tank, I was worried that Sparks would be gobbled up by the sharks, chipmunk cheeks and all.

For a while, things didn't seem to be going well for Sparks. He seemed a bit flustered when the sharks started questioning his business motives. I felt particularly bad for him when Barbara Corcoran acted like he was an idiot for wanting to create jobs in his town. She seemed really confused about that concept, which is disturbing. Shame on you, Barbara! And what's with Kevin O'Leary and his obsession with money? Who actually asks people things like, "Do you love money as much as I do?" I loved Spark's response to the question: "Probably not." That's because you still have a soul, Sawyer! At that point, I was hoping Sparks would run out of the room.

But Sparks turned out to be tougher than he looks. First, he casually mentioned to the gang that he, his mom, and his girlfriend had sold thousands of units of Soy-Yer-Dough online in the past year. Then he let slip that Play-Doh had approached him multiple times, offering him half a million for his idea, which is protected by a provisional patent! At that point, I realized Sparks could handle his potential investors. It was great to see everyone begin to salivate.

Now for the deal: Sparks came in requesting $125,000 in exchange for a 25 percent stake in his company. O'Leary, a licensing expert, offered to give him that amount, but for 51 percent of the company. Sparks was understandably averse to ceding ownership of the company, especially since that meant there was no way to guarantee O'Leary would follow his wishes for the company. There would be nothing stopping O'Leary from simply accepting the $500,000 offer from Play-Doh and doubling his investment, a poor deal for Sparks all around. I liked the fact that Robert Herjavec jumped in, offering Sparks $125,000 and a controlling stake in the business. Clearly, O'Leary's licensing background made him the better partner, but he seems less than trustworthy. His whole argument that he wouldn't be able to negotiate a good deal with Play-Doh unless he had a controlling stake in Soy-Yer-Dough made no sense, as Herjevac pointed out.

In the end, it seems like Sparks made out pretty well. Daymond John and Herjevac joined forces with O'Leary to sweeten the pot, and Sparks walked away with $300,000. The downside is he had to cede 51 percent of his business to the three sharks. Though I doubt Sparks will achieve his goal of creating jobs in Bloomfield this time around, perhaps he can use whatever money he winds up making off a deal with Play-Doh, which I assume is in the works, to start other companies in his town. Since the show was filmed this past August, it's too soon to tell, but I'll be keeping an eye on this budding entrepreneur.

Last updated: Sep 30, 2009




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