Entrepreneurs try to strike it rich on ABC’s “Shark Tank”

Imagine if the judges on American Idol not only had to offer their feedback to a contestant but then had to make a spontaneous decision whether or not to invest in that singer’s future. If that premise sounds intriguing to you, then you should definitely tune into the Season 3 premiere of Shark Tank.

While you won’t find anybody belting out tunes tonight (8pm ET), there are some similarities between the two programs. Men and women of all ages stand before a panel of experts and have minimal time to convince them that what they have to offer is special. The budding entrepreneurs here feel like they have invented a niche product, and the millionaires — or sharks — have to make a quick decision on whether they can make money on any money they decide to pony up.

Sometimes all of the sharks will pass on the opportunity, and the person will exit without a single penny; other times they will get into a bidding war that leads to the inventor walking out with much more money than they ever could have dreamed of getting. ABC says that more than $6.2 million in investments will be offered this season to budding business owners.

The good news for regular viewers is that Mark Cuban, owner and chairman of HDNet and owner of the 2010-2011 NBA championship Dallas Mavericks, will appear in every episode this year. The outspoken billionaire is respectful but very blunt with the folks asking for his money.

“When was the last time you held a check for $500,000?” he asks one man.

“I’ve never held a check for $500,000,” he replies

“What would that do for your life?” Cuban asks, knowing full well it would change his life.

Also serving on the panel this season will be Lori Greiner, a prolific inventor of retail products and often referred to as the “Queen of QVC;” real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran; technology innovator Robert Herjavec; fashion and branding expert Daymond John; and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary.

While Cuban and some of his fellow experts tend to gently let down the inventors they aren’t interested in partnering with, O’Leary seems intent on playing Simon Cowell’s old role on American Idol. Despite deeming himself Mr. Wonderful, O’Leary oftentimes goes for the jugular when shooting down a person’s dreams. This usually leads to the other sharks lashing out at him for being so cruel just for the sake of being so.

The real stars here, though, are the inventors themselves. Some have been in business for many years, while others might be stay-at-home moms who came up with children’s products that they think will appeal to other mothers. The key is convincing the sharks that their idea is not only unique but profitable.

The best part about Shark Tank is it can be appealing to people of all ages. My kids are 8 and 6, and they look forward to watching every week to see the cool things that people make and then debating over if it’s something people would buy. Oh, and they can never get enough of booing Mr. Wonderful.

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Credit: Richard Cartwright/ABC

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