Plano lightbulb company shines brightly on Shark Tank

PLANO — A LED light bulb called ilumi fits into regular fixtures, but comes with a Bluetooth connection built-in. You turn it on, off, change between millions of color choices, and adjust the brightness — all with a smartphone app.

Co-creator Swapnil Bora calls it a "total evolution in lighting."

After he and friend Corey Egan came up with their 'bright' idea, friends prodded them to go to a local tryout for the ABC reality show Shark Tank.

"I think we mutually got like 20 e-mails saying, 'You guys have to audition,'" Egan said. They did, and they made the cut.

Immediately, Bora and Egan started practicing for the actual show. "My wife probably watched more episodes than all of us — and would pretend to be each of the Sharks, and she was a really tough 'Mr. Wonderful,' so the real deal wasn't as bad," Egan said.

The two entrepreneurs were clearly prepared when it came time to pitch. Following their slick presentation, right away, three Sharks were on the hook.

But then the big one got away.

Mark Cuban withdrew his handsome offer. In actuality, editing and some bluffing made for good TV. "We were watching it with our friends, and everybody said, 'Oh no! Corey, what did you do?'" Egan recalled.

But following a commercial break, when the program returned, Mark Cuban did, too. We asked Egan how big of a deal that was.

"Pretty big. I would say huge," he said.

The Dallas Mavericks owner got 25 percent of their company; they got a $350,000 investment and access to a billionaire businessman who they say has been helpful... and accessible.

"It's pretty remarkable if you e-mail or Cyberdust him, you can get a hold of him pretty quick. He's got a team of folks we work with almost on a daily basis."

In addition to Mark Cuban and his team, Bora and Egan got exposure. Their 11-minute appearance on Shark Tank generated 25,000 hits on ilumi's website — the most ever.

But keeping the lights on long-term requires more than one successful night and one star partner.

"He's not going to run the business for us. A lot of people might watch Shark Tank and think, 'Oh, they're good; they signed a deal, now they can sit back and take the money and drink piña coladas on the beach.' That did not happen. Really, as we took on investment, that's when it's time to get to work."

In the year since the Shark Tank segment, ilumi has exploded. The Plano company has received five patents; its workforce has more than tripled in size from three to 10 people; they're developing new products; and their bulbs can be found at major retailers like Amazon.com, Home Depot, and Fry's.

You can also find ilumi bulbs on some buildings, like the Hi Line apartments in Dallas. The two guys who started it all say the future is looking pretty bright.


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