After months of anticipation, audition videos and made-for-TV sales pitches, the Cellhelmet iPhone Case failed to float to the top of ABC's "Shark Tank."
But if you ask the Greensburg-based company's founders about their appearance on the reality show a week later, it would be hard to tell they didn't come out as winners.
"It's funny. We keep getting these emails saying, 'I'm so sorry things didn't work out for you,' but things really did work out for us. We got the word out about the product to millions of people and I'll take that any day," said Mike Kane, cofounder and CEO.
"In fact we're sitting prettier now than we ever were before."
Mr. Kane and his cofounder David Artuso didn't get the $160,000 investment they sought from Shark Tank, a competition show where emerging entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of self-made moguls who are willing to dig into their own pockets for the right venture.
However, the team scored a win with Eldridge Communications the moment they returned from filming the show in September.
The North Hills-based Verizon Wireless premium retailer entered a partnership with Cellhelmet that gives Mr. Kane and his team an undisclosed investment and a distribution deal that will make the product available through Eldridge's stores. Eldridge has 15 Verizon Wireless locations in western and central Pennsylvania.
Mr. Kane said Cellhelmet hasn't made any major moves for hiring or expansion since the investment, but the funding will certainly help the staff keep up with a tsunami of new orders. Since the TV show aired last Friday, more than 200 stores from across the country reached out to the company and direct orders for the iPhone cases have more than doubled.
"We had sold 1,300 units to [online] end consumers leading up to the show," he said.
"We sold 1,300 units in the past 24 hours. It's unreal compared to what we did in 2012."
Mr. Kane said it might have been for the best that Shark Tank's panel of expert entrepreneurs soundly rejected the idea of the damage-resistant iPhone case that comes with insurance for a broken phone. Cellhelmet began selling the $49.99 product in spring 2011.
Mr. Kane noted the new partners at Eldridge were not only steeped in the telecommunications business but also would be available to act as full partners, rather than the silent partnership being offered by the Shark Tank panelists.
Season three's panel of "Sharks" includes Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, retail inventor Lori Greiner, real estate powerhouse Barbara Corcoran, tech entrepreneur Robert Herjavec, fashion and branding expert Daymond John, and venture capitalist Kevin O'Leary.
"I think with the connections we're building in Pittsburgh, we're going to do 10 times better than we would have done with one of the Sharks," Mr. Kane said.
Justin Goehring, co-owner of Eldridge Communications, couldn't agree more. He said he and his partner, David Eldridge, had heard inquiries about Cellhelmet from customers even before the partners thought of reaching out to the Greensburg company.
He said the Eldridge team has already made its impact in the partnership by expanding the offering of colors and tweaking the packaging to better suit retail settings. But one of the most important factors the partners bring to the table is being able to understand retailers' needs and applying that knowledge to conversations with potential distributors.
"We're fielding a lot of phone calls and inquiries from different chains and distributors, and that's where we can talk to business owners from a business owner's perspective," Mr. Goehring said. "We recognize the challenges business owners in the wireless industry face, and we're able to talk their talk."
That talk should lead to a bunch of units walking out of stores this year, said Mr. Kane. He estimated Cellhelmet, which is now carried by about 60 stores, had sold 7,000 total units, both to online end-users and through retailers, since its creation.
He wouldn't make specific projections about what he expects for 2013, but said he is certain his new investors won't regret diving into the project.
"We're going to be the biggest Cinderella story in 'Shark Tank' history," Mr. Kane said.
Deborah M. Todd: email@example.com or 412-263-1652. First Published March 15, 2013 4:45 AM