Watching ABC’s reality television show “Shark Tank,” Max Schweitzer, ’22, MSC ’23, learned that part of developing a business is building up a steadfast confidence in your project.
“The biggest lesson from the show is to balance excitement and authenticity when pitching,” he says. “You have to be your business’ number-one cheerleader. No one else will believe in your business if you don’t believe in it yourself.”
That’s the spirit Schweitzer brought to Clark Tank, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation program’s “Shark Tank”-inspired competition that provides entrepreneurial students opportunities to gain mentorship and funding for an idea or venture. Through Clark Tank, students learn the art of presenting a business pitch. This year’s competition featured undergraduate and graduate students representing a variety of majors.
Schweitzer pitched his fine arts business, Schweitzer Studios, which largely features his original black-and-white realist animal illustrations. He won the marketing competition, which included a $1,000 prize, and earned second place in the overall Clark Tank venture competition, which included a $2,000 prize. The overall competition, with a $3,000 prize, was won by Moses Millman ’24 and Henry Reyes ’24 for the business Millman Management.
Schweitzer plans to continue selling custom art pieces as a full-time job after graduation. He hopes to use his business to help pet owners honor the animals they adore. In the following Q&A with ClarkNow, Schweitzer shares his experience as a young entrepreneur.
When did you develop your business and what was the inspiration behind it?
I’ve been drawing ever since I was a little whippersnapper. Both of my parents are artists (an architect/musician and a potter), so art has always been a big part of my life. I began selling my work in 2017, and in 2018, Schweitzer Studios was born. Today, Schweitzer Studios is a fine arts business focusing specifically on white-and-black animal illustration. I sell my work at art festivals throughout the year and create custom commissions of pets for clients.
Why did you decide to participate in Clark Tank this year?
I met Professor Teresa Quinn, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation program manager, in 2019 during my sophomore year. She encouraged me to participate, but I didn’t feel like my body of work was strong enough to get the most out of the competition. I took a leave of absence from Clark in fall 2020 and then studied abroad in Perugia, Italy, in fall 2021. Since you need to be on campus both semesters to participate, I wasn’t eligible until this past year. It was my last year at Clark, and I knew I’d be working on the business full-time after graduation. Clark Tank was the perfect way to learn more about pitching and running a successful business. The funding I was awarded will help transform Schweitzer Studios into a refined fine arts operation.
What lessons from Shark Tank helped you prepare for Clark’s competition?
Being excited about your business shouldn’t lead to inflated numbers and outlandish claims. Being candid about business analytics goes a long way in establishing credibility.
What was the key to preparing your best possible pitch for the judges?
As a fine arts business, I wanted my pitch deck to be just as beautiful as the work I was sharing in the slides. I watched all kinds of PowerPoint tutorials and learned how to make dynamic graphics and transitions. Having smooth animations between slides allowed me to transition gently from one topic to another and made for a clear and concise narrative. I knew this collection of slides would be the judges’ first impression of Schweitzer Studios. The last thing I wanted was for a stale PowerPoint to detract from my message and artwork.
How did you feel presenting before Clark Tank judges?
Pure terror! Just kidding. The hardest part is always the preparation. When you’re building the pitch deck and coming up with the script, you’re thinking about all the ways the presentation could go off the rails. What if I forget to say this part? What if they ask this tricky question? Oh no, I’m in trouble!
I think we all have a tendency to catastrophize before an important event. In reality, though, the actual presentation usually goes smoothly. I ran through the presentation so much beforehand that it went as well as I could have hoped.
How did you feel learning about your winning placement?
Surprise, excitement, and relief. I participated in the marketing competition and the overall Clark Tank competition and was lucky enough to earn funding in both. The competitions were back-to-back on a Thursday and Friday. I spent the whole week leading up to the pitches in the library for eight hours a day refining my pitch decks and scripts. It was such a nice surprise to be rewarded for all the effort that went into the whole process, and it was equally nice knowing that I could finally relax over the weekend!
What was the most important lesson from Clark Tank?
Clark Tank taught me that running and pitching a business is a team effort. “Shark Tank” makes it seem like it’s the business owner against the world, as the sharks ask difficult questions, waiting for a weak answer they can tear apart.
With Clark Tank, the pitch process is a collaborative effort. I pitched to professors, family members, and other contestants and slowly refined my pitch over the winter. In the weeks leading up to the final competition, I met with other finalists to run through our pitches together and give each other feedback. On the actual day, everyone was cheering each other on and it was a supportive, positive environment. Halfway through the day, all of the contestants had lunch with the judges, and we were able to speak with rock-star business owners who offered critical advice about next steps for each business.
How has your experience and success during Clark Tank impacted your entrepreneurial growth and goals?
The experience has helped build confidence, both in my illustration skills and in my knowledge of my business overall. I had to understand every aspect of the business when preparing for potential questions the judges could ask. This allowed me to more effectively communicate the mission and goal of Schweitzer Studios.
Hearing all the positive feedback about my work was incredibly rewarding. I’m so grateful to everyone who was willing to say a few kind words along the way. I think I speak for all artists when I say there’s always an internal battle with self-belief. Some days we feel like we’re on top of the world, and some days it feels like we’re moving backward with each new mark. The Clark Tank experience helped me really believe in myself and the work I’m creating.
Do your business interests overlap with your other interests, at Clark or elsewhere?
My main passion is art, so I feel lucky to get paid to draw. My other big interest is racket sports, specifically tennis and pickleball. During high school, I started a small private tennis coaching business in my hometown, West Hartford, Connecticut. That business taught me valuable lessons about entrepreneurship and effective marketing, which helped me find success with Schweitzer Studios.
What’s next for your business?
Schweitzer Studios will become my full-time job after graduation in May. My current focus is on creating custom pet commissions on unique surfaces like black paper, slabs of slate, and birchwood. I’ll also be selling prints and original illustrations at arts festivals throughout the year. The first festival is “Celebrate! West Hartford” on June 10 and 11.