For 13 years, Shark Tank has spotlighted budding entrepreneurs in America. Founders across all industries head to the show for a chance to receive investments from its panel of "sharks." The lineup typically includes Dallas Mavericks' billionaire owner Mark Cuban, FUBU clothing founder Daymond John, New York real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, inventor, and QVC personality Lori Greiner, software tycoon Kevin O'Leary, and computer and I.T. security founder Robert Herjavec.
According to data compiled by angel investor (and Shark Tank fan) Halle Tecco, fashion and beauty brands comprised 19% of the pitches seen on the show's first ten seasons. However, representation from Black beauty founders hasn't been as prominent within this category, and they've appeared sparingly in the segments that make it to air. Previous seasons have included Melissa Butler of The Lip Bar (season six), Joshua Esnard of The Cut Buddy (season nine), Kim and Tim Lewis of Curl Mix (season 10), and Yve-Car Momperousse and Stephane Jean-Baptiste of Kreyòl Essence (season 11).
Season 13 showed a concentrated effort to showcase more Black entrepreneurs, particularly in beauty. The noticeable increase comes when many networks (like ABC and CBS) are actively working to amplify diversity on and off-screen following the acts of hate against the Black community in 2020.
Five Black skincare, makeup, and haircare innovators appeared on Shark Tank's latest season: 54 Thrones founder Christina Funke Tegbe, Range Beauty founder Alicia Scott, Young King Hair Care co-founders Cora and Stefan Miller, and Tania Speaks Organic Skincare founder Tania Speaks. Each of the founders mentioned came to the show with a proven track record (ranging from six-figure sales to retail partnerships), but collectively, they sought investments to take their business to greater heights.
Despite being the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in America, Black women-owned businesses have historically been underfunded. According to Crunchbase, as of July 2021, Black female startup founders had only received 0.34% of the total venture capital spent in the U.S. Shark Tank has the power to provide this demographic with much-needed financial investments and help close the funding gap.
Houston-based Funke Tegbe was the first Black beauty founder to appear this season, and she set the bar high, blowing away the judges with her pitch about her African-inspired skincare brand. "I felt comfortable [in front of the sharks]," Funke Tegbe says. "They had great energy. I had great energy, and I was able to talk about what I love."
She ultimately landed a deal for $250K for 17.5% equity with O'Leary and guest shark Nirav Tolia. Though Funke-Tegbe accepted during the episode, she later declined post-show. "Kevin and Nirav are amazing individuals," Funke Tegbe says. "But after the show, I decided not to go through with the deal, and I decided it wasn't the move we needed to make at this time."
Funke Tegbe's appearance was followed by Scott, who was joined by her operations manager and cousin Myisha Fantroy. The Atlanta-based duo accepted an offer for $150K for 20% equity from Greiner and guest shark Emma Grede, making Range Beauty the first Black woman-owned makeup brand to score a deal on the show.
Grede's participation further elevated the monumental moment as she is the first Black female investor to be featured on Shark Tank. "I'm a self-taught founder, and I'm at the point where I want a strategic partner," Scott says. "Landing Emma was a dream come true. We've seen what she's been able to do with the Kardashian brands [Skims and Good American]. She's also an investor in Bread Beauty Supply. Since we taped the show, she's maintained a hands-on presence with Range Beauty."
Young King Hair Care is another Atlanta-based beauty brand that made its television debut this season. The company's mission to empower young boys of color through hair care piqued the interest of a few sharks, eliciting royalty offers from Herjavec and O'Leary. The brand's founders opted not to take either deal but found the experience enriching. "Getting an offer is gratifying," Cora Miller says. "Although it didn't work for our company, it was rewarding that they saw what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it."
At 19, Speaks was the youngest Black beauty entrepreneur to participate during this season. Her brand was born from struggles with being bullied for her bushy eyebrows. Speaks launched with an eyebrow gel in 2016 and has since expanded to offer other skincare products. Her story and success (she's generated $2.4 million in sales since 2020) impressed all panelists. However, Cuban was the only one to offer her a deal. As he expressed interest, he became visibly emotional as he told Speaks his offer was contingent on his daughters being able to meet her. Speaks agreed and walked away with a partnership for $400K, giving up a 15% stake.
"Mark has been an amazing mentor," Speaks says. "If I send him an email any time of the day, he'll respond. I've been so busy after Shark Tank, and my story resonated with so many people, and they immediately ran to support me. Mark's been very helpful when I'm stressed out and don't know what to do."
The Shark Tank Effect
Speaks' sentiments draw attention to another notable aspect of the show: The Shark Tank effect. The term has been used to describe the series' impact on a brand's sales and social media followers. With each season drawing in millions of viewers, it's not surprising that an appearance on the show results in an overflow of support.
"The Shark Tank effect is real," Funke Tegbe says. "As soon as our episode aired, our orders started going crazy. And with the episode re-airing and being on Hulu, I still get D.M.s from people telling me they saw me on Shark Tank."
Similarly, Scott says Range Beauty experienced immense growth following the show. The evening the episode aired, the brand received over 1,000 orders for its True Intentions Hydrating Foundation Sample Kit ($23). "We exceeded our goal," Scott points out. "It was chaotic for a month, and we were trying to keep up with orders and had to put products on pre-order."
Miller likens the experience to a Black Friday or Cyber Monday surge. "We had over 12,000 visitors to our site the night our episode aired," she notes. "It's been surreal to have this new fanbase."
The Future of Shark Tank
Game-changing moments like the ones each founder described are why more Black entrepreneurs need to be in spaces like Shark Tank. Founders of color deserve equal access to the mentorship, investment, and exposure opportunities shows like this provide. Shark Tank clearly put this philosophy into practice this season, from the businesses they cast to the guest sharks they chose.
Audiences are excited by the diversity on the show, and the ratings demonstrate it. Shark Tank drew in a season-high of 4.5 million viewers on the night guest shark Kevin Hart appeared. Meanwhile, Speaks' episode is the third most-watched episode thus far (bringing in 4.2 million viewers). But, one season of increased representation isn't enough. A continued effort must be made to highlight Black entrepreneurs in beauty and beyond. "I hope it becomes normal that it's not every ten episodes that we see a Black founder," Scott says, "I hope representation is consistently woven throughout the episodes and guest sharks."