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Spine Sweat Course prepares IU grad for Shark Tank TV appearance!

Sep 11, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A national audience will see how Indiana University Kelley School of Business alumnus Derek Pacqué handled the pressure of making a pitch for his company before a panel of potential investors on the ABC television show "Shark Tank" on Friday.
Photo of Derek Pacqué

IU alumnus Derek Pacqué started his company, CoatChex, while he was a student at IU's Kelley School of Business.

Pacqué, who graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor's degree in management and entrepreneurship, says the experience wasn't as tough as when he took the IU Kelley School's Spine Sweat class.

In the capstone course for graduating seniors, students spend months preparing business plans for a final pitch to a panel of entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture capitalists. The panel decides their grade. Those who don't pass don't graduate.

"To be honest, it was much more nerve-racking to go in front of the panel for Spine Sweat class," said Pacqué, who now lives in Indianapolis. "Going into the 'Shark Tank,' I had nothing to lose -- if we weren't good, we weren't going to be partners.

"However, if it didn't work out in the room for the Spine Sweat course, I wasn't going to graduate. I knew I had to go in and sell that business with everything I had," added the McLean, Va., native. "That was my first time presenting in front of real venture capitalists and real angel investors."

The national audience, including many of Pacqué's former classmates and professors, will find out how he did when the season premiere of the show airs at 8 p.m. EDT Friday. He presented his business concept, CoatChex, to a panel that included another IU Kelley alumnus, Mark Cuban.

Inc. magazine has called the Spine Sweat course one of the "best entrepreneurship courses in America."

Photo of Donald F. Kuratko

Donald F. Kuratko

"This experience fostered the confidence in Derek to expand his business idea, and it certainly prepared him for the 'Shark Tank,'" said Donald F. Kuratko, executive director of the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Jack M. Gill Distinguished Chair of Entrepreneurship.

"Derek is an outstanding example of the determined and innovative IU entrepreneurship student that the Kelley School program develops," Kuratko added. "We are all extremely proud to have him represent our program on national television."

Pacqué started CoatChex after a night out with friends at one of Bloomington's bars. He was accustomed to finding coat checks in most bars and restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area during the colder months, but not in Bloomington. One night, he decided to take a new coat that his mother had given him and stashed it behind a Christmas tree, where he thought no one would find it.

"I thought that I had hid it well, right behind a fake gift, but when I came back it was gone," he said. "I knew my mom would be mad. I was mad, and I remember going home and ranting, 'Why don't they have a coat check?' And then it occurred to me how much money I could have been making."

Pacqué approached the local bars with his idea. Several had previously tried to offer coat checking to customers but had deemed it too much of a liability or a hassle. He soon entered into contracts with a couple of establishments in town.

He borrowed $500 from his parents to start the business and within a week paid them back. He started the business with his roommate but soon had 16 employees, pulling in about $1,500 a night. Pacqué's business made $50,000 its first winter.

CoatChex charges $2 to $3 for each coat checked, depending on the night, and splits the profits with the bars. To make sure that people receive the right coat and to facilitate a swifter process, the company developed an iPad-driven system. It also collects marketing information from customers that can be shared with the restaurant or bar, which may choose to convey info about specials.

His company has since branched out to working large events and venues. For example, CoatChex was used at some of the larger Super Bowl parties in Indianapolis, including those hosted by ESPN and Maxim magazine.

He has established another company, Bailment Technologies, that is looking for other applications for the secure ticketless technology used by CoatChex, such as valet car parking, dry cleaners and storage businesses.

Pacqué said his decision to apply for "Shark Tank" was something of a lark. He spent about two minutes filling out the initial online application in a light-hearted manner, including details like Cuban also being a Kelley alumnus. It was two paragraphs long.

"One day, I was at a parts trade show in Chicago ... and I got a call from Santa Monica on my business phone," he said. "I asked myself why would someone from Santa Monica call a coat check company? It struck me as odd because it's 70 degrees there year round."

The call was from the show's producers. More than 30,000 people applied to be on the show, but Pacqué had made it past the first round. Now he had to produce a much more detailed application, which took him about a week to complete. Two weeks later, he was invited to California to present his pitch in front of the cameras.

"But then, they told me that not everyone who makes a pitch makes it on the air," he said. "It wasn't until I got a phone call about a week ago that I knew I was going to be on the air."

In addition to seeing Pacqué make his pitch, viewers will be taken to the IU Bloomington campus, where scenes were filmed, including at the Kelley School.

"It's a great validation to be accepted out of tens of thousands of applications to present to the Sharks," said Gerry Hays, a practicing professor in entrepreneurial finance and a principal of Slane Capital, which has invested in Pacqué's firm. "The product that we've created -- anyone can own a coat checking business -- should resonate with a percentage of the expected 7 million viewers for the Season 4 premiere."