A 19-year-old student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who recently pitched his company to “Shark Tank” could not be happier with the outcome, but he can’t say much more until the episode airs Jan. 28.
Martin Dimitrov got the idea for “SnapClips” in an entrepreneurship class during his junior year at Wheeling High School.
“We had the task of coming up with 10 problems that we had every day,” he said. “I had gym class right after, and I really hated using those spring weight collars that they had in our gym. They were just so difficult, and they were broken half the time. I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better solution to this.'”
Dimitrov wondered if he could secure weights using slap bracelets, the kind that were so popular in the ’90s. With a budget of $100, his team ordered a big pack off eBay, and got to work prototyping a product for a districtwide pitch competition.
“They came with little hearts and rainbows on them. We took them out of the packaging, and just used the metal strips inside,” he said. “I ended up stacking like five wristbands together with double sided tape, and then I plastidipped the bottom.”
Dimitrov said this was their “minimum viable product,” and it was enough to win the competition’s grand prize and take home a couple hundred dollars. On top of that, a Barrington resident who is the co-founder of a program for young entrepreneurs gave them $2,500 to keep going with the idea.
The project took off from there through a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $23,000. Dimitrov said he shared the campaign through social media, asking all of his friends to help him out. The campaign really blew up when someone saw one of his friend’s posts and shared it to to a CrossFit Facebook group. That post tripled their fundraising overnight.
After the district competition, Dimitrov took the lead on the project, filing a provisional application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
“It’s really good that we did that because someone’s actually copying us,” he said. “They applied 22 days after we applied for our patent.” He said the company has tried to pressure him to sell the patent, which he has no interest in doing.
Dimitrov eventually teamed up with some friends he worked with when he was 15 at a telemarketing company.
“Once I had developed this to a point where it was ready to have more people and more hands involved I knew exactly where to go,” he said. “I brought in the same guys who I knew could do the work from before.”
They spent more than a year continuing to prototype the product, working with a manufacturer in China.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t just going to send out crap,” he said. “We really care about the quality of the product, and we want to make sure that the customer is getting something they can be happy with.”
When the product was finally ready, SnapClips shipped out its 800 Kickstarter orders to backers in 15 countries.
Then in November, Dimitrov and his partners, who are students at UIC and Harper College, won the $5,000 first prize in U.Pitch, an entrepreneurship competition for college students. “We beat kids from Yale, the University of Chicago and Northwestern,” he said proudly.
Dimitrov decided to go to a “Shark Tank” casting in Boston after one of his investors suggested the idea just days before the last chance to pitch for the current season.
Getting on “Shark Tank” was a dream come true for Dimitrov, who said he has wanted to start a business since he was a little kid selling Gameboys at school.
ABC flew Dimitrov and his partners — Karol Grycuk, Luke Helminiak and Johnny Perricone — to Los Angeles for five days, where they pitched SnapClips to a panel of “Shark Tank” judges that included Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and former New York Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez.
Also appearing on the episode will be some other Chicago entrepreneurs: Dan Stelmach and Nick Sky, whose mobile app ChangEd helps people pay off student loans using spare change from everyday purchases.
As for Dimitrov, “I felt like it went really well. I think the outcome was incredible. We couldn’t have expected anything better,” he said. “I am just so excited to see it on TV.”