Penguins ‘swim with sharks’

The judges of Penguin Shark Tank from left to right, Leonard “Lenny” Fisher, Mara Cunningham, Barb Ewing, Danny Catullo. Photo by Madeline Hippeard/ Jambar Contributor.

By Madeline Hippeard
Jambar Contributor

Six hopeful entrepreneurs competed for a cash prize of more than $10,000 to kick-start their businesses at Youngstown State University’s second Penguin Shark Tank competition on March 20 at the Williamson College of Business Administration.

During the event, the student contestants presented five-minute business pitches in one of two categories: business idea or established business.

The entrepreneurs presented their products to Youngstown-area business professionals, including Barb Ewing, the CEO of Youngstown Business Incubator; Danny Catullo, the vice president of ecommerce at PXX Hospitality; Leonard “Lenny” Fisher, chairman of the board at Handel’s Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt; and Mara Cunningham, owner and operator of Yo! Crash Mobile Rage Room.

The contestants of Penguin Shark Tank. Back row: Emma Courtwright, Nathan Gostey, Cole Burnett. Front row: Ty Stricko, Sai Teja Reddy Bokka, John Barnyk. Photo by Madeline Hippeard / Jambar Contributor.

Three students presented business ideas, where they described their plans for a product. The winner in this category was John Barnyk with his business Steel City Armorers.

Barnyk, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering and computer science, said his company 3D prints replica costume armor at higher qualities and lower costs than his competitors.

“I got my first 3D printer way early on — nothing compared to what’s out today — and ever since then, I’ve kind of balanced 3D printing with my taste and hobby in art and my major in electrical engineering to make a hobby out of 3D printing and manufacturing,” Barnyk said.

Barnyk received $7,500 from the Sharks, which he said will go toward purchasing the equipment, materials and office space needed to start production.

Other businesses proposed were Beyond Books, a real-time interactive software that helps students better understand math and science related topics, and Floraguard, a probiotic hand scrub for surgeons made to prevent dry, cracked skin from constant hand washing throughout the day.

Three students presented in the established business category.

Ty Stricko, a freshman majoring in business management, presented the winning established business entry, Stricksportcards LLC, a sport card business he has operated since December 2023.

Stricko was given $3,500 from the Sharks to cover advertising and rent costs. Stricko also won the audience favorite vote, receiving a prize of $500.

Also presenting in the established business category was fifth-year senior telecommunications major Emma Courtwright of Alice’s Spell Shop, where she creates and sells handmade, customizable resin jewelry.

Courtwirght said she was inspired to start her business by the support of her friends.

“When I first started making cute little spell jar necklaces and bracelets and keychains for my friends and they were like ‘Oh my gosh this is so cool, I could see you totally making something out of this,’” Courtwright said. “That’s what the goal is, to make money and do what I love.”

The final established business was a jewelry company called Etherea, run by graphic design student Nathan Gostey. Etherea sells high quality, sustainable and ethically sourced pieces.

Jackie Ruller, director of the Excellence Training Center at YSU, said Penguin Shark Tank was inspired by a student worker at the ETC who approached Ruller with the idea of creating her own business.

“I went to the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, asked if there was any funding opportunity so that I could get money to support her and her desire to create her own business, and they told me to apply for a micro grant,” Ruller said. “So, I wrote the proposal requesting funds, and they ended up giving me $10,000. And we chose to have a pitch event, the Penguin Shark Tank.”

Ruller said the Burton D. Morgan Foundation found the first Penguin Shark Tank so successful, they committed to holding two more events in 2024 and 2025.

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