Lavanya and Melissa Jawaharlal appeared on the Oct. 30 episode of “Shark Tank” on ABC to pitch their STEM Center USA company and came away with $200,000 from Shark Lori Greiner, who will get 20 percent stake in the company, media reports here said.
STEM Center USA, based out of Claremont, Calif., is a robotics educational company that works to excite the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics leaders through hands-on education.
UC Berkeley senior Lavanya Jawaharlal has already made campus history as a member of the first all-female ASUC executive slate, and on Friday, she was the first UC Berkeley student to appear on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
“Shark Tank” features aspiring entrepreneurs who deliver pitches to a panel of potential investors — the “sharks” — who may then choose to invest in the business or product presented to them. The sharks are not required to provide funding, however, and contestants may ultimately leave the show empty-handed.
Jawaharlal is the president and co-founder of STEM Center USA, a robotics outreach program aimed at inspiring youth by providing after-school programming and selling robotics kits for hands-on learning.
According to reports, the center has 85 students, with 75 attending year-round. Annual memberships at the center range from $1,400 to $1,800 – or $135 on a monthly basis. The sisters came out and pitched their company to the five “Sharks” on the show – Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavec, Greiner, Mark Cuban and guest Chris Sacca. They asked for $150,000 in exchange for 15 percent of the company.
“While we have become more dependent on technology every day, fewer and fewer people seem to have even a basic understanding of how things work,” Melissa said in her pitch. Lavanya explained that the center made $300,000. She explained that they discovered a need for a robotics tool, which they created for upper middle school and high school students. She added that between creativity and robotics tools, the revenue was split $130,000 to $170,000 respectively. She concluded to say they project to make $450,000 this year and $3.2 million in sales in 2016.
Despite their passion, and their optimism that the Jawaharlal sisters will eventually succeed, O’Leary, Herjavec and Cuban were not comfortable making an offer. Sacca said he “deeply believes” in their mission and offered them $150,000 for 25 percent of the company. He continued, seeking an understanding of what is the end game of STEM Center USA.
Melissa responded to Sacca explaining the goal is to have a center in every city, nationwide. She added they needed assistance from a Shark to expand into a franchise and take the company to the next level. Greiner jumped in and offered $150,000 for 20 percent to spice things up.
Melissa said, “Both of you offer wonderful things,” and she is certain that both Sacca and Greiner could help the center and said they would love to work with both of them.
Lavanya is a student at U.C. Berkeley studying mechanical and ocean engineering, and is expected to graduate next spring. While she is deeply passionate about robotics and has spent a good portion of her time devoted to that, she has also served as the California executive vice president of Future Business leaders of America.
Melissa earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California. There, she also studied entrepreneurship. Her primary research is in space exploration and has been a design lead for currently orbiting satellites at the Information Sciences Institute. She has also done software optimization for the U.S. Air Force.
According to Jawaharlal, it was clear from a young age that she was destined to be an engineer. When she received her first Barbie Doll horse, she recalled, she immediately took it apart to figure out how it worked. By middle school, she had become active in her school’s robotics team and began tutoring her peers in robotics not much later.
Lavanya and her sister Melissa Jawaharlal founded STEM Center USA “almost by accident” in 2011 after their parents decided that the informal robotics classes they held in the family’s living room for neighbors and friends should expand to its own location. Four years later, STEM Center USA is housed in Claremont, California, where Melissa Jawaharlal works full time and Lavanya Jawaharlal travels at least once a month in between classes and her ASUC responsibilities.
The Jawaharlals have watched “Shark Tank” together since its earliest episodes aired. But it did not cross the sisters’ minds to audition for the show — Lavanya Jawaharlal said that “it seemed like a far-away dream” — until clients and family members began to suggest it.