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Shark Tank contestant Ben Olson shares a laugh with the judges during Wednesday's "Chamber Shark Tank" event at the Empire Arts Center. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Entrepreneurs present innovative ideas to Grand Forks business 'sharks'

Six brave souls took their chances with "the sharks," but no one was eaten alive, at least literally.

The Shark Tank, an event presented by Alerus and the Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, gave entrepreneurs a chance to pitch ideas Wednesday at the Empire Arts Center to four judges for a chance to win cash.

About 90 attendees watched as contestants told the four "sharks" why they believed they had an idea that they could turn into a successful business venture.

Judges (L-R) Matt Winjum, Margaret Williams, Hal Gershman and Phil Gisi interview entrepreneur Janelle Wald

Judges (L-R) Matt Winjum, Margaret Williams, Hal Gershman and Phil Gisi interview entrepreneur Janelle Wald

Johnny Forsberg had the best idea, according to the judges. His invention, the coffee sleeve, was a pouch on coffee mugs created to hold gum to help customers with "coffee breath." He was awarded $500 for first-place innovation.

Janelle Wald nabbed second with Athina Stirs, an apron line that "compliments your creativity and your curves" for comfort in the kitchen.

Ben Olson took third with his idea for a digital printer leasing business for schools.

Wald and Olson each won $250.

Though not everyone won cash, there is a chance a local investor may show interest in one of the contestants, said Barry Wilfahrt, The Chamber president and CEO. Last year, some contestants received investments from local members of the business community, he said, and investors were in the crowd again this year to watch the contest.

The event is meant to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the community, he added.

Judges were Hal Gershman, owner of Happy Harry's Bottle Shop, UND School of Business Dean Margaret Williams, Rhombus Pizza co-owner Matt Minjum and Phil Gisi, president and CEO of Edgewood Management Group.

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