UMD Shark Tank Competition winner inspired by local food
The UMD Labovitz School of Business and Economics (LSBE) hosted the third annual Shark Tank Competition on Monday, April 23, in UMD’s Marshall Performing Arts Center. The Shark Tank competition, based on the ABC reality television series, is held each spring and encourages student entrepreneurs to present their innovative business ideas to a panel of Duluth business professionals for a chance to win a $1,500 grand prize.
This year’s winner is Kevin Swanberg, a second-year graduate student studying linguistics who wanted to explore local and community food by creating a business called “Locaspore.” By using waste byproducts from local coffee roasters, Swanberg has been able to grow fresh mushrooms at a low cost, which he intends to sell in Duluth. Since about half of the U.S. mushroom supply comes from Pennsylvania, mushrooms often do not arrive as fresh as they could be while the transportation costs add up.
Locaspore is not Swanberg’s first business idea related to local food. He created a subscription drink club called “Spiritd,” an app that was partnered with Duluth restaurants to give free drinks to those who subscribed to the app. After working on Spiritd, Swanberg wanted to do something more closely connected to creating local food, which inspired him to create Locaspore.
While Swanberg admitted that he was intimidated to present his idea for the competition, he knew it was something that he had to do to get his business idea off the ground.
“Personally, I have no business acumen, I’ve never really taken business classes, so I felt intimidated to compete in something like this,” Swanberg said. “I feel really grateful to the judges, I feel grateful to the organizers for letting me do it and I feel appreciative that they chose me against other great competition.”
Swanberg said that he had been growing his mushrooms in his own apartment, but has since been working on a deal with a local non-profit to get more space. He intends to use the $1,500 prize to get more equipment for mushroom growing.
“It does take some equipment to grow these indoors so I intend to purchase mushroom-growing equipment,” Swanberg said. “That’s things like lab equipment, humidifier, shelving and packaging for the mushrooms.”
The second place winner was Jacob Armstrong, who was awarded $875 for a mobile application called StormSell, which is meant to help contractors create fast and accurate damage scope reports for insurance adjusters. A $650 prize was given to the third place winner while $300 was awarded to the audience choice pick.