Inventor survives 'Shark Tank' — and nets a $90K investment

By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin

Bend inventor Mark Burginger went swimming with the sharks Friday night, and got the bite he was hoping for.

Surrounded by friends and family at Paisano's Pizza in NorthWest Crossing, Burginger, 52, tuned in to watch himself on “Shark Tank,” an ABC show in which inventors pitch their ideas to a panel of potential investors. Burginger's Qubits, an educational construction toy, was rejected by four out of five potential investors, but won the support of Damon John, the creator of the FUBU clothing line.

Under the deal between Burginger and John, Burginger will receive $90,000 in exchange for 51 percent of Qubits — provided they can sell the toy to a major toy manufacturer.

The broadcast brought to an end nearly six months of bottling up the secret of what really happened in July, when Burginger went to California to film the episode. Burginger signed an agreement with the show's producers to not reveal the outcome of his appearance until the show aired, not even to his family, and the air date — originally scheduled for October — was pushed back three times.

“That was kind of rough, because each time we were excited thinking this would be the week we will be able come forward with everything, but then we had to still remain quiet about it. That was rough,” he said.”

An architect by trade, Burginger came up with the idea for Qubits when he was 17 but didn't build his first prototype until 2007. Unlike Legos or other similar toys, Qubits is built from a flexible material, allowing for the construction of curved structures.

Narrating over shots of him on the Drake Park footbridge and packing boxes of Qubits with his family in his garage, Burginger told the television audience how he'd borrowed $60,000 to put into developing the toys after his architectural jobs dried up. Funding from the show's investors was, he said, his “last hope.”

Outside of John, the panel of investors was largely critical of Burginger's invention, suggesting he'd been wasting his time and berating him for not approaching toy manufacturers on his own. While Burginger offered to sell 51 percent of Qubits for $90,000, the idea that the deal would be dependent on bringing a major toy company on board was John's — a move that caught the other panelists off guard.

“I wish I woulda thought of that,” said panelist Robert Herjavec after John and Burginger sealed the deal with a handshake.

Burginger said he made a conscious decision not to get greedy and ask too much of the prospective investors.

“The tactic I used is, I'm a regular guy with a small company, I don't have a large company to offer them,” he said. “I know I don't want to go toe-to-toe with them and negotiate percentages for dollars, because I'll get killed. I'm an architect, not a businessman.”

The deal between Burginger and John will eventually elapse if they're unable to find a manufacturer for Qubits, but Burginger said he's confident the combination of his appearance on the show and John's marketing skills will get him an audience with someone who can make that happen.

“It's upon him to make or find a deal,” he said. “He wants to make money, and it's upon him to make that happen.”