Tyler Peoples has always been a fan of the hit ABC show Shark Tank.
“I had watched Shark Tank forever,” he said. “That’s where I got all of my business knowledge from — it’s like a free, televised business school.”
In all his years of watching the show, he never imagined he’d end up pitching his own business concept to “the sharks” (Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec).
But in episode 824, which airs May 5 (after the CSBJ’s press deadline), that’s exactly what he did.
Peoples is best known in Colorado Springs as the chef who runs culinary and catering operations at the Springs Rescue Mission, a nonprofit that helps homeless people. But what many may not know is that Peoples is also an entrepreneur and inventor of an all-in-one kitchen gadget called the “Scooping Bowl.”
Years ago, while Peoples was working as executive chef at the Briarhurst Manor in Manitou Springs, he had a realization that has stuck with him ever since: the idea of creating a mixing bowl with several functions to save time and energy in the kitchen.
“It’s like any other invention — it lives somewhere in your brain for a long time and you wish it existed,” he said. “That started in 2010 or earlier. When you do a lot of cooking, you find yourself saying, ‘there has got to be a better way.’”
Peoples said he first documented his idea for an invention in September 2012, when he began daydreaming about all the ways his bowl might be able to benefit those in culinary roles. The end result was a 5-quart mixing bowl with a pour spout that serves as two bowls in one, with the ability to act as a colander, egg separator and serving piece. The product’s signature feature is an attached spatula that allows its user to easily scoop out its contents.
In 2013, Peoples began the process of patenting his Scooping Bowl via his business Peoples Design Inc. And that was very nearly the end of the story.
“There are so many opportunities to give up when you’re doing something new,” he said. “There are so many barriers to success.”
The process of getting a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Denver proved to be both long and arduous. Peoples hired a patent lawyer, conducted a series of preliminary tests and spent thousands of dollars to ensure he could move forward with his venture. He said it felt like an uphill battle.
“They want the language to be narrow; they want the designs to be specific,” he said. “They’re very thorough.”
Even then, his application was denied three times before the office finally granted him a patent for the Scooping Bowl in late 2014, giving him the green light to begin production. And that was just the beginning.
“You always have those thoughts, where you think you better get out before you get any deeper,” he said. “But you also think, ‘well, I’ve already gotten this far, so I might as well keep going.’”
Peoples got help with prototyping from Mind Studios at UCCS, then led by engineering and innovation chairman Michael Larson. The program was focused on giving students a “great experience by helping local entrepreneurs get access to high-quality design, prototyping and consulting services,” Larson said.
Although it was replaced by the UCCS Garage in 2015, the program helped more than 200 local clients — including Peoples — get their start.
Larson is also a patent expert and said that there are many misconceptions that keep entrepreneurs and inventors from achieving success. He said the biggest misconception is that a patent is necessary in the first place.
“The benefit of a patent is protection in the marketplace,” Larson said. “It protects you from someone else doing the same thing, but patents don’t actually give you the right to do something. It just gives you the right to prevent someone else from doing it.”
Because of the extraordinary costs and difficulties involved — up to four years and typically more than $5,000 — Larson said he recommends most inventors apply for a provisional patent, which is cheaper (around $150) and serves as a placeholder for 12 months while the applicant decides his or her next move.
“That way, you can quickly get on file when an idea strikes you,” he said. “It holds your place in line, is less expensive and gives you more time to decide.”
But Larson also said that it is of vital importance to have a patent in place before doing a deal on a show like Shark Tank.
“A patent is the strongest intellectual property protection,” he said. “Should someone try to steal something in a setting like that, it is best having that on file.”
Shark Tank and beyond
Soon after receiving the patent, Peoples prototyped his Scooping Bowl and found a Chinese manufacturer — with the help of a business liaison at UCCS — to produce the BPA-free product. He then tried marketing it to vendors, at expos and by sending samples to businesses he thought might be interested. No response.
“Nobody likes to feel like they’re being sold,” Peoples said.
Then he heard the story of Linda Clark and Gloria Hoffman, mother-daughter business partners from Colorado who took their Simply Fit Board to Shark Tank and received a $125,000 deal with Greiner for a 20-percent stake in their company — launching them to success.
That inspired him to try the same tactic.
“I really had nothing else going on,” Peoples said. “So I decided to sign up for Shark Tank, and if they ended up eating me alive? Whatever.”
Peoples said around 100,000 people sign up for the show and that statistically you’re more likely to be admitted to an Ivy League school.
“There’s no way I’m getting into Harvard,” he said.
So he sent an application to ABC and received a call two days later from a company representative who told him he would move on to the next rounds of selection. That kept happening, until Peoples was eventually selected to pitch the Scooping Bowl on the show, which was filmed in September.
Peoples signed a nondisclosure agreement and can’t talk about his experience on Shark Tank or any deal he may have received from the show’s experts, but he did paint a broad picture of how things might change for the young entrepreneur, regardless of the outcome.
“Whether it worked out or not, I wanted to give it a shot,” he said. “With or without a deal, just being a part of Shark Tank gives my product a lot of exposure. So with or without a deal, there is a lot that changes.”
Peoples said he will continue to work at the Rescue Mission, which is the place that inspired him to give it a shot in the first place.
“One big motivator for even trying to get on the show is to let the guys I work with know that they might as well give it a shot — that if Tyler can do it, they can too,” Peoples said. “Hopefully it inspires them. Maybe they have a product, a book they want to write, whatever it may be. It’s attainable, and if you don’t give it a shot you’ll never know.”
The Scooping Bowl is currently available in cornflower blue and sage green, and can be purchased at scoopingbowl.com for $24.95.