Georgia Tech grad Krystal Persaud receives $150K from Mark Cuban on ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’ for Grouphug solar panels

Originally posted Tuesday, March 24, 2020 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Krystal Persaud, a 2010 Georgia Tech graduate and entrepreneur, hit the Mark Cuban jackpot on last Friday's "Shark Tank" episode.

He offered $150,000 for 25 percent of her company Grouphug, which sells cool-looking solar panels for consumers and businesses.

Cuban, a regular on “Shark Tank” and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is on CNN as I am writing this bemoaning the delays of a multi-trillion dollar aid package in Congress, worried for many of the small business owners he had invested in.

But before all this COVID-19 craziness, he found Persaud’s smart, engaging “Shark Tank” presentation irresistible.

Her original Grouphug framed window solar panel (MSRP: $149, now on back order until May) provides USB juice for any electronic device.

Persaud, a 31-year-old Brooklyn resident, sees herself as both a technologist and an artist. She feels she can make solar more mainstream by bringing it closer to people in a fashionable way. Think Steve Jobs and the computer.

“I truly believe the future of solar is making it as beautiful as it is efficient and that’s the key to getting more people to adapt it,” she told the Sharks.

Credit: Eric McCandless

Credit: Eric McCandless

She had one major drawback for many of the sharks: she had started selling her product just three months earlier.  While she raised $70,000 through Kickstarter, far greater than her initial goal, she hadn't shipped any product yet at that point.

The Sharks were more intrigued by a cat-shaped solar panel she created

for the New York Hall of Science in Queens.

Kevin O'Leary was quick to bow out, calling it a commodity business. Lori Greiner didn't like that it was too early to see if there was a real audience for her product line and also said no. Barbara Corcoran loved Persaud, found the product "ugly" and declined to invest. Rohan Oza was more interested in the solar cat design but felt she hadn't thought through the potential business-to-business opportunities. He was out, too.

This left Cuban, who had been very quiet up to this point. In an interview with me this week, Persaud said she really wanted to work with Cuban but wasn’t sure if he had bought into Grouphug at this point.

But good news! He told her  he loved the idea of getting businesses to sponsor cool-looking solar panels and offered her $150,000 for 25 percent of her business, up from the 10 percent she initially sought.

She admitted she had no leverage and quickly said yes.

She wasn’t seeking publicity this early on. “Shark Tank” found her, she said. When they asked, she decided to go for it despite the fact her business was so young.

“It was like YOLO,” Persaud said. “I’m a small business. You do everything you can. I went on the show anyway. I just kept trying to talk about the value.”

She said she was in such a daze after the “Shark Tank” victory, all she recalls is drinking “s****y wine on the plane as my celebration because I couldn’t tell anyone. Then I woke up the next morning with email DMs from Mark Cuban saying, ‘Great job and here are some ideas!’ ”

Persaud said since that taping, she has been back and forth with Cuban about her company. She also asked that he meet her in person and he agreed. He came to her shared office space and discussed possibilities for an entire hour, helping her shape her business plan.

“He’s been extremely responsive,” she said. “I know if I’ll ask something, he’ll respond. I don’t know how he does it given everything else he has on his plate.”

While Persaud is continuing with her consumer product line, she said more money could be had through corporate business.

She said she was honored and humbled that Cuban invested in her as a visionary entrepreneur. “He told me, ‘Your products will change. You’ll figure it out.’ He liked that I could sell things. That’s crucial for anybody running a small business.”

And though Corcoran asked where she got the name Grouphug from, it was never answered on air and was edited out.

“I really wanted to create a solar technology company that was warm and made you smile,” she said. “It feels like a collective action. Typical solar branding is very utilitarian like Photovoltaic Limited. Not consumer friendly.”

Overall, Persaud has had a good year.

“I get new feedback every day,” said Persaud, who has a sister in Tucker and many great friends still in Atlanta. “It’s so great. At the end of the day, more people are interested in learning and thinking about solar energy. That’s a huge win.”