What started out as a minnow of an idea has landed Casa Grande High School graduate Pat Pezet and his business partner, Matt Canepa, in "The Shark Tank."
The Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduates and baseball teammates will pitch their idea of a chewing tobacco alternative made from coffee on the ABC television program Shark Tank in a program airing this Friday.
On the television program, a panel of successful entrepreneurs and business executives — the Sharks — consider presentations made by beginning entrepreneurs seeking investments for their business or products. Panel members then make (or refuse) proposals to invest in the products. Pezet was contractually bound not to reveal or talk about any proposals made to he and Canepa until after the show airs.
What the partners bring to the show is a product called Grinds, which, Pezet explains is finely ground flavored coffee supplemented with B vitamins and other ingredients, making it an energy-producing substitute for cancer-causing tobacco products that have been prevalent in baseball and other sports for decades.
Grinds was originally developed as a healthy alternative to chewing tobacco. The product comes in pouches that are placed in the mouth to simulate the oral fixation that comes from chewing tobacco and help prevent nicotine cravings. "It is definitely designed to help people stay off tobacco," Pezet says.
Pezet knows first hand about the dangers of tobacco use. He played his high school baseball at Casa Grande, where he was an all-league shortstop on Bob Leslie Field, named for a former Casa Grande coach who died of cancer after many years of tobacco chewing.
Their path to Grinds the company began in typical college-student fashion with a desire for pizza. They had kicked around the concept for the product, but had never done much with their idea when they saw a flyer advertising free pizza for students willing to attend a seminar on innovative ideas. the partners attended, ate their free pizza and the next thing they knew they were entering their plan in a business department contest for innovative ideas.
They finished third in that competition and then entered an all-school competition. They won that contest, and with it $15,000 for start-up costs.
Their next step was to use their baseball connections from college and Canepa's time in the Chicago Cubs organization to introduce their product to players. Pezet acknowledges that the original product was not an immediate success. After an initial try at spring training camps, they reworked the formula, added flavors and tried again.
Grinds the product and the company got a big boost when San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, coming off his team's World Series victory in 2010, gave the product an endorsement after trying it in an effort to give up chewing tobacco.
"That was the kick in the butt we needed," Pezet noted.
At first, the company was operated out of their homes, but now the partners have a small office space in San Francisco. The product itself is now manufactured in Europe where they found the machinery they needed. "It is where we can maintain the best quality," Pezet says.
"Things are falling into place. It just takes time. We're starting to get some really good exposure. The best part is being able to share with our families and all the people who believed in us."