The District’s startup hub 1776 will get a bit of national exposure tonight when one of its members appeals for funding with the wealthy businesspeople on the ABC reality show Shark Tank. The episode airing tonight will feature CJ Isakow pitching his product, the Eyebloc, a plastic flap designed to protect computer and tablet users from webcam hacking.
Isakow, 34, developed the device last year after reading about allegations that school administrators in Pennsylvania accessed the webcams on school-owned laptops to view students’ activities at home. The product, he says, offers protection from hackers who might use a webcam to blackmail victims and from government agencies that can hack into webcams to gather real-time images.
“It’s criminals, it’s creeps, it’s our own government,” Isakow says.
Isakow filmed the Shark Tank segment in September, flying out to Los Angeles to pitch the Eyebloc to a panel of inevestors that includes Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. The 34-year-old Wharton graduate calls the 40-minute pitch—whittled down to six minutes for broadcast—the “hardest professional interaction” he’s ever had in his career.
“You don’t shake hands, there’s no small talk,” says Isakow, whose day job is with an energy consulting firm. “The camera guy walks up for 30 seconds and you’re just supposed to stare at the ‘sharks’ and they stare back.”
In his segment, Isakow asks Cuban and the others for $50,000 in exchange for a 10 percent stake in his company. He admits that one doesn’t need to buy a special device to block out a webcam.
“My main competition is duct tape and Post-It Notes,” Isakow says. But he figures he has an edge in selling a stylized product that won’t leave adhesive gunk on a device.
Isakow cannot say ahead of the show whether Cuban or the others went for it. But however it plays out, he’s still looking for other sources of funding. Eyebloc plans to launch an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign tonight after Shark Tank airs. “I’m looking for all avenues of investment,” he says.