What could one day be a ubiquitous product in freezers across the land got its first vote of confidence on a stage at the University of Minnesota Duluth on Monday.
Nathan Lipinski won the school's second annual Shark Tank Entrepreneurship Competition — and its $1,500 top prize — with his Freezer Friend invention, a simple indicator meant to warn users if a freezer has malfunctioned.
"It's a super-easy, cost-effective solution to a major problem," Lipinski said to the five judges and the few dozen students, faculty and others in the audience.
The medical student pitched the product as a food-safety fix that could be especially useful for secondary freezers in basements or those at cabins that aren't opened often.
"My solution to the foodborne epidemic is, simply, a tube," Lipinski said.
The tube contains frozen water, a washer and a copper-coated floor so when a freezer loses power for a period of time the washer will sink to the bottom, triggering a light that lets users know they might want to think twice about cooking the steaks in that freezer, even if it did start up again at some point.
Similar products exist, but Lipinski said he can make his patent-pending product at a much lower cost than the competition, and that expensive wifi-enabled monitors are no match for the visual indicator.
The second part of the winning pitch involves smaller tubes containing liquids that melt and show colors at different temperatures. These inexpensive meters could be used by shippers that need to ensure temperatures stay below zero from origin to endpoint.
"We're hoping they'll change the policy to make these required by manufacturers," Lipinski said after the event, adding he's reached out to policymakers to try to get that guaranteed market.
With prototyping already underway, Lipinski said he's now looking to build local relationships to get the product to market from Duluth, and that $1,500 prize will help make that happen.
Taking second, and $875, was Adam Kirsch with the Ducer Drag, an ice-fisherman's friend that will quickly reel in a fish finder's transducer while the fisherman is trying to reel in a walleye without getting tangled in the sonar wires.
Winning $650 for third place was Sebastian Nemec, who pitched his transgender-focused online retailer, media hub and service directory called Folx.
"Thirty-one percent of transgender people have been harassed ... in a retail environment," Nemec said. "Not only am I asking you to invest in me and Folx, I'm asking you to invest in trans lives."
Winning the $300 audience choice prize was Cole Ehresmann — who took first place last year with his apparel company Hive — and Zack Gapinski for ShredHub, an online platform to connect surfers, skaters and snowboarders to potential sponsors, shops and events.
"It's like LinkedIn for action sports," Gapinski said.
The other two contestants were Mike Kenyanya, who pitched the highly connected health information app Health at Hand, and Matt Cherne, who pitched licensable music library Cherne Beats.
The Shark Tank event, based on the ABC show of the same name, was organized and emceed by UMD entrepreneurship students Mitch Brown and Natasha Perkerwicz.
The local judges/sharks tasked with grilling contestants on their business plans this year were Curt Walczak of the UMD Center for Economic Development; Patrice Bradley, CEO of Swim Creative; serial entrepreneur Stevie Paulson; Monique Forcier of Titanium Investments; and Ben Mork, co-owner of Mainstream Fashions for Men.