(Photo by Tyler Golden/Getty Images)
A Columbia-based startup fighting hunger with the dregs of the food economy is getting a chance to swim with the sharks.
An episode of ABC’s Shark Tank featuring Hungry Harvest is set to air on Friday, Jan. 8, founder Evan Lutz said. The episode airs at 9 p.m.
While the Pikesville native was contractually barred from telling us what happened, the episode is a milestone in itself. The process to get on the show started with open casting in early 2015, and progressed to a 40-50 page application, with video.
Lutz later found out the company was selected to pitch. Having founded the company following his studies at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and earning a spot in the second Conscious Venture Lab cohort, Lutz has given plenty of pitches. But the millions of viewers likely to watch this pitch required extra precautions.
To better understand what to expect, Lutz watched every episode of Shark Tank he could find. The team also compiled a 13-page, single-spaced document with every potential question they could imagine being asked.
“I didn’t want to stutter. I didn’t want to misspeak. I didn’t want to say a word that didn’t accurately represent the company,” he said.
Filming happened in June in California. Lutz has had to maintain silent since then, meaning the experience still seemed fresh when we spoke to him last week.
Five minutes before the show in the green room, he said his heart rate picked up. Then, the doors opened, and there was a countdown.
“My heart was pounding out of my chest,” he said.
But after heading out onstage, he had a few moments to collect himself and size up the sharks as the crew took a few photographs.
Lutz said he asked for a $50,000 investment, but couldn’t reveal whether he got funded.
When it was over, there wasn’t any guarantee that the segment would air. Producers tape more segments than they actually air, and Lutz only found out in late December that his bit made the cut.
But it’s not as if he’s been sitting around waiting for prime time. The point of the episode, after all, was that there is a growing business to run.
— Hungry Harvest (@HungryHarvest) January 4, 2016
Hungry Harvest collects produce that’s pretty enough to eat, but not enough to sell from area farms. Produce gets discarded for a variety of reasons. Lutz offered the example of an apple being too small, or eggplant being just a bit shriveled.
“If you got a box of our produce, you would probably not be able to tell the difference between that and a box of produce from the grocery store,” Lutz said.
After being processed at a company warehouse in Jessup, the boxes of produce are delivered for $15-55 each. For each box delivered, the company donates a meal to a family in need. The company also helps people with jobs. In addition to the core team of five, Hungry Harvest coordinates with homeless shelters to hire people living there as independent contractors. In addition to providing a job, the company also assists with resume building and other job skills.
In a year and a half, the company has grown from an initial 10 customers to about 600. Most of the customers are in D.C., White Marsh and Alexandria. After the Shark Tank appearance, Lutz said the company expects more growth.
“One in every six Americans are food insecure,” he said. “We believe that no food should ever go to waste.”