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Thursday, December 7, 2023

UC Davis alumnus to appear on ABC hit reality show “Shark Tank”

Imagine a device that can turn almost any hollow item into a speaker. Entrepreneur and UC Davis Class of 2006 graduate, Jason Lucash, combined his love for music with modern technology and the ancient Japanese art of paper folding to start his company, OrigAudio.

Jason Lucash will appear on ABC’s reality television show “Shark Tank” on May 6 at 8 p.m., where he will be pitching his innovative line of portable speakers.

Lucash launched his company, OrigAudio, in August 2009. Since then, his speakers have been featured on the CBS “Early Show,” on the NBC “Today Show,” in The New York Times, in InStyle Magazine and were named in Time Magazine’s “The 50 Best Inventions of 2009.”

“Shark Tank,” created by Mark Burnett, executive producer of reality shows such as “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” allows entrepreneurs to pitch their innovative ideas to five “sharks” – multimillionaire businessmen, including Mark Cuban and Jeff Foxworthy – in the hopes that these experienced tycoons will invest in their businesses.

Lucash, along with his business partner Mike Szymczak, came up with the idea for OrigAudio while lugging around big, bulky speakers as they constantly traveled for their former jobs. Lucash wanted to create an easy way to listen to music while on the road. His first product, “Fold and Play,” are one-watt, self-powered, foldable speakers. Lucash remembers when the idea hit him.

“I was traveling for business in Thailand messing with a Chinese takeout box. That’s when I had one of those eureka moments. What if you put those speakers in a Chinese takeout box,” Lucash laughed.

When he came home, Lucash toyed for hours with the takeout box but couldn’t get it to stand properly. That’s when he came up with using the idea of the Japanese art of origami, hence the name of the company, OrigAudio.

Three months after launching, “Fold and Play” was named No. 39 in Time Magazine’s “The 50 Best Inventions of 2009.” Time Magazine stated in the feature: “Origami has never sounded so good.”

“[That] was the greatest honor we have received since starting the company. It really makes our hard work feel validated,” said Szymczak, director of marketing for OrigAudio.

To put it in perspective, the number one invention the year prior was the Apple iPhone and other inventions OrigAudio competed with in 2009 included an AIDS vaccine and NASA’s Ares Rockets.

The day “Fold and Play” appeared in Time, OrigAudio sold 5,000 speakers, and since then business has skyrocketed.

“Business just kind of blew up in our face. It has been one hell of a ride,” Lucash said.

Expanding on his first idea, Lucash came out with his second product, the “Rock-it.” This device, using vibration sequences from sound waves, can turn almost any hollow object into a speaker. Lucash saw this technology while traveling in Japan and was able to transform it into a popular product.

“We basically saw something in Japan that is a big flower box that turns your whole coffee table into a speaker. We took it apart, saw how it worked and made it into something that is small and portable. [We] added some adhesive to it and that was it – we had the ‘Rock-it,'” Lucash said.

The “Rock-it” works best with anything that is hollow so the sound can vibrate through, such as cardboard boxes, cereal and oatmeal boxes, microwaves or even plastic cups.

“The loudest thing I ever heard it on was a row boat. We turned it upside down and put the speaker right in the middle of the boat,” Lucash said.

Lucash says the concept is hard to explain without actually seeing it in person. Although this has been one of his toughest challenges to get past, Lucash has used YouTube, television infomercial channels and his official web site to provide demonstrations. He hopes his appearance on “Shark Tank” will help in this regard.

Lucash and Szymczak, who will present their entire line of speakers to the sharks, prepared for the show by watching as many old episodes as they could.

“The experience of ‘Shark Tank’ is like nothing else out there: you walk into a room of self-made billionaires and they are brutally honest on your business,” Szymczak said.

OrigAudio has come a long way since it started back in 2009. The company now prides itself in producing products that are all eco-friendly – something Lucash learned about while at Davis. OrigAudio also donates a percentage of their proceeds to Music National Service, which according its official website, “trains and places musicians to serve full-time as teachers and mentors in low-performing public schools, youth centers and other high-need community settings” – a purpose OrigAudio is very passionate about.

The company, now based in Chicago, Ill., consists of only Lucash, Szymczak and four other people. Lucash said that he never imagined he would be doing this after graduating from UC Davis and describes the whole experience as surreal. But, he said that with the right determination it could happen to any Aggie grad.

“I took a big risk, but it was something that I knew I had to take and if I had passed this up I knew I would have looked back on it forever. The biggest piece of advice I would have is to let your hard work pay off.”

OrigAudio speakers are currently sold at the UC Davis Bookstore and can also be purchased online at their website origaudio.com. Or you can tune in on May 6 to see if Lucash escapes alive or gets eaten by the sharks.

CLAIRE MALDARELLI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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