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How to host a shark-tank event

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John Hopkins University (JHU) hosted their own version of the hit television show Shark Tank. JHU hosted a Biomedical Shark Tank event with graduate students as their participants. It was hosted by the Biomedical Engineering (BME) department at JHU. Before the Shark Tank event, the BME secured guest speakers to present and also held a poster session for undergraduate students.

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Need and goal

Johns Hopkins University Innovation Fellows saw the need for biomedical students to be more business and marketing savvy. This group of Fellows believed that most biomedical engineering students were more than talented in terms of engineering, but were not apt at commercializing their research or their work. Their proposed Shark Tank event would help them ‘dumb’ down their research so that the general populace would be able to understand it. This event would also help the students learn to market their idea and themselves. The BME department also wanted physicians to see the talent in their BME department.


This event was aimed towards biomedical engineering faculty, biomedical engineering graduate and undergraduate students, and JHU physicians.

Speaker/s and Content 

Two speakers were invited – Dr. Gautam Gulati and Henry Ahn. Dr. Gulati holds multiple degrees in biomedical engineering. Henry Ahn owns a start-up company in the biomedical field. Both were brought in to speak about their experiences within the industry.


During the event, in the earlier part of the day, the speakers addressed the audience. During the afternoon, undergraduate students in the BME department showcased their research and work in poster format. This poster session was open to the general public – so physicians, BME faculty and grad students were all part of the audience. There was a slight overlap between the undergrad poster session and graduate Shark Tank event. Overall, the entire day of events lasted approximately 7 hours.

Reaching out to Potential Speaker/s 

Dr. Gulati holds multiple degrees in the fields of biomedical engineering. Henry Ahn owns a startup in biomedical engineering. Both Dr. Gulati and Henry Ahn held ties with JHU, and were found through either faculty or by extensive research. Reaching the speakers was done by emails and cold calling.


Because the highly endowed BME department was funding the entire event, budget was not a constraint. The few things that required payment were the venue, food offered to the audience and participants and the prize money.


The date and time were chosen to be most convenient for undergraduate students and physicians. The BME department really wanted physicians to be able to attend; finding convenient times for physicians became first priority.

Fundraising and sponsorships 

No sponsors were needed; the BME department funded the entire event.


The Shark Tank-like event was held near the JHU hospital, where graduate studies are held. This location is 30 minutes away from the main campus. Because the BME department was targeting physicians and faculty, this was the location most convenient for those professions. JHU Fellows chose a glass room for viewing capability from all angles and for curious people passing by.


Initially, there were a few names considered for the event because faculty believed Shark Tank would not promote the sharing of ideas. In the end, however, Shark Tank stuck because it was well known and popular. The overall message sent to the participants was that all ideas were worth working on. This is different from the message the TV show Shark Tank sends to its participants. 


To raise awareness, flyers were handed out in a common area. Along with that, a Facebook page was created to inform undergraduate students. Faculty and JHU hospital physicians were sent ‘Save the Date’ emails months in advance in order to free up their schedules. Graduate students were informed via email as well.


The event pretty much ran itself. Support was most needed to set-up and break down the venue, guide the audience and to judge the Shark Tank event.

Event logistics

Before the event, ‘Save the Dates’ needed to be sent out in order to assure that attendance by ‘important’ people would be high. Catering needed to be done before the day of the event as well. Other than that, there were no major logistics prior or during the event.

Media capture

The JHU event was not captured through videos or photographs due to IP restrictions. However, the speakers did ask for their speeches to be recorded. These recordings can be found on the website.


JHU Fellows believe they reached roughly 80 people through this event. The audience came and went throughout the day.

Sustainability and Planning for Future Events

Save the Date emails are important in planning events. Also, student participants need to be informed at least a month in advance in order to prepare themselves for the competition.

Future leadership 

No specific person was chosen to take over the Shark Tank event after the JHU Fellows graduated. The Fellows were a part of an entrepreneurship group and gave the reins over to that group. Because Shark Tank was done in support with the BME department, the BME faculty know exactly how to run it, having the experience to instruct future students.

Lessons Learned and Tips for Others 

JHU Fellows agreed it was nice to run the event through the BME department, but they would make changes to next event. Aiming it toward just one niche of the engineering department really closed off the audience. Next time, they would hold a more general Shark Tank in a venue closer to the undergraduate part of campus instead of the JHU hospital.

The JHU fellow that was interviewed for this article was Nishant Kumar (