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A love of the outdoors and a desire for innovative gear inspired one Spokane couple to start a business they will pitch on the hit TV show “Shark Tank” this weekend.
On the ABC show, successful entrepreneurs – including Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Draymond John and Kevin O’Leary – search for their next deal. They give offers and counter offers if they decide to fund the business and advice if they do not. The hopeful entrepreneurs then choose to accept or decline an offer from “the sharks.”
Cory and Heidi Santiago graduated from Mead High School, and Heidi was born and raised in Spokane. The pair launched their company Bear Minimum in 2017. They sell square camping cook pots called Bear Bowls.
The Bear Bowls are flame-resistant, foldable camping cooking pots that double as bowls. They are made of coated fiberglass with an aluminum plate on the bottom.
“It adds weight but it allows stability. Without the metal plate, I was able to cook a few times and now I have cooked on one bear bowl over 70 times,” Cory said.
The pot must cool down before it can be used as a bowl but it cools down easily if placed in a body of water.
“He’s always looking for ways to be the hero with that cool gear that helps somebody who needs something,” Heidi said.
The bowls come in three sizes: The Baby Bear, Mama Bear and Papa Bear. You also have the option to purchase bowls with or without a paracord handle. Baby Bear sells for $30 or $2 less without the handle, Mama Bear is $40 and Papa Bear is $50. The family pack – one of each size – sells for $99.
The bowl is so portable that you could fit it in a pocket (if you have big pockets).
The products are available on the Bear Minimum website and Amazon. The couple hopes to sell them in stores soon.
The Santiagos, who have five children, started their business with several crowdfunding campaigns – including an incredibly successful effort through Kickstarter. They raised more than $41,000 from more than 800 people in ten days.
Cory said that campaign captured the attention of outdoor enthusiasts throughout the world. Bear Minimum has sold more than 3,000 units to buyers in 30 different countries. The Kickstarter campaign grabbed the attention of producers at “Shark Tank.”
“They reached out to us and said we would probably be a good product for their show,” Cory said.
“I went back through my old emails and decided to respond to find out for sure if it was a hoax or if it was real, and it happened to be one of the executive producers of the show,” Cory continued.
The episode airs this Sunday at 10 p.m. PST on ABC.
Heidi described the “Shark Tank” application process as “very intense,” with many forms, applications, background checks, phone calls and videos.
“It is easier to get into Harvard than it is to get on ‘Shark Tank,’” Heidi said.
The couple is excited for their business to be featured on the season premiere and 200th episode of “Shark Tank,” but the appearance understandably came with some nerves.
“I was less nervous than I expected to be but we knew what we had was good, we knew that the producers liked it, and we’d already had the backing of so many people who bought it on Kickstarter and used it…and so we have all of these great responses from people who use it out in the field,” Cory said.
“The fear was huge for me,” Heidi said with a laugh.
Bear Bowls are handmade and the Santiago family – including Cory and Heidi’s two teenage children – make the bowls out of their home. In anticipation of sales spiking after the “Shark Tank” episode airs, Spokane community members gathered to make 1,000 bowls on Sunday.
Cory and Heidi said they are still trying to reach a total of about 1,600 bowls before Sunday, with some of those coming from a manufacturer in China.
Heidi said their children have been incredibly helpful as they have developed their business.
“They have helped – hours and hours of help – without complaining…just teenagers who have sacrificed so much. You would not believe,” Heidi said.
Bear Minimum is about at a breaking even point as far as profit, Cory said. The couple hopes the business will be more profitable as it continues to grow. They are also in the process of getting patents, lawyers and trademarks.
While they are developing the business, the couple continues their side projects. Cory drives for Lyft, and Heidi teaches singing lessons out of the family home along with teaching online English to Chinese children.
“There are a lot of things we are doing to keep the ball rolling while we make this happen,” Heidi said.
There will be a “Shark Tank” viewing party at 6 p.m. at Caruso’s located at 1120 N. Division Street near Gonzaga University’s campus. Anyone is welcome to attend.
Heidi grew up around horses and Cory’s dad and uncle brought him along on their fishing and camping trips throughout his childhood. Cory also serves as a captain for whitewater rafting tours in his free time.
You can also view Bear Minimum's full story on YouTube.