When Tog Samphel ’22 appears on Shark Tank on Friday, January 27, 2023, the show will cap off an unusual few years – and not just because of the pandemic. Not only did he invent a handy kitchen gadget that intrigued the producers of Shark Tank, he went back to college and finished his bachelor’s degree at Montclair State University last August – all while working in digital product design and user experience.
His gadget – known as “Anytongs” – is a plastic handle that turns any two utensils into a set of tongs. When he first developed the design, he started a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to reach $10,000 to launch the business. The fundraising effort brought in $34,000 and an inquiry from producers at Shark Tank, who came across the invention fundraiser online.
He says he didn’t see the Shark Tank email for three months but decided to write back anyway. Producers were still interested in his Anytongs idea and invited him to audition for the show. Auditions took about eight months.
“The whole thing has been surreal,” the Clifton, New Jersey, entrepreneur says. “I didn’t know if anything would come of it but I kept advancing to the next round. The next thing I know, I’m on my way to California to appear in front of the sharks.”
His pitch to the sharks was in September, just a month after the 40-year-old finished his bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts – 17 years after he dropped out of Montclair State University to work full time at AOL.
“Finishing my degree was something I really wanted to do for a long time and I feel really good that I did it – and that Montclair let me back in and found my records in the ‘archives’ and helped me figure out what I needed to finish. I can see Montclair State from my backyard in Clifton. For the last few years, it’s been there, judging me,” he jokes. “I have two little kids and we always say ‘get the job done.’ I always try to set a good example for them so I wanted to finish what I started.”
Now his kids will also get to watch him appear on TV – finishing what he started in auditions as well. While he can’t divulge what happens on the pre-recorded Shark Tank, Samphel says he is just happy (and surprised) to have gotten the chance to pitch his idea.
“I didn’t know until recently that my segment would even make it to the show,” he says. “That’s great exposure for the Anytongs.”
Inspiration for Anytongs came from his mother, who, technically, invented it first. While he was growing up in Paterson, she often had family gatherings with lots of dishes and needed extra tongs for serving, so she’d tape plastic utensils to clothes pins to create her own.
“She would be so happy to see this now and to see me on Shark Tank,” he says. “She and I and my brothers used to watch that show and we loved it.”
Tune into ABC at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27, to see how Samphel’s pitch plays on Shark Tank.
Updated Feb. 2, 2023: N.J. entrepreneur grabs $150K ‘Shark Tank’ deal — with tongs and conviction
Story by Editorial Director Laura Griffin.