A recent episode of ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank” featured a motion-activated toilet night light co-created by a BYU grad. Matt Alexander, a 25-year-old BYU student, presented his product with co-founder Mike Kannely in an episode that aired on Friday, March 11.
“I drink a lot of water,” Alexander said. “So I woke up every other night and I’d have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and I hated turning on the stupid light and waking myself up.”
Alexander said his nightly struggle inspired him to invent some kind of illuminating device that would help him see while using the bathroom without hurting his eyes.
“My original idea was a floor mat that would go around the toilet that you could step on and it would light up so you could see where you are going,” Alexander said.
Alexander discussed his light-up floor mat idea with brother-in-law Mike Kannely at a family reunion in September 2014. Kannely suggested attaching a light on the toilet instead.
Alexander liked the idea and immediately started building prototypes of the toilet night light. He then called Kannely, letting him know he was going forward with the invention. Kannely promptly said he was ready to go head-on with the product.
The product, IllumiBowl, attaches directly onto the toilet bowl and changes color once it is motion activated.
Kannely said he and his family use the product themselves during their late-night runs to the toilet.
It’s also helped his own children. When his son was 3 years old and potty training, he struggled with going to the bathroom at night because Kannely said “he couldn’t reach the light switch.”
Kannely said IllumiBowl is a “beacon of hope” for his son. “He can go in there, he’s not too scared of the bathroom, he can see it changing colors, he thinks it’s fun and it really helps him,” Kannely said. “So now night times are a breeze because he doesn’t wake me up and he doesn’t make a mess.”
After Alexander and Kannely built a few prototypes, they started a Kickstarter campaign and raised $95,399 for their invention. They have set up a factory in China and have sold more than 1.3 million IllumiBowls.
“Shark Tank” is a television show designed to help entrepreneurs and young startup companies get in touch with investors and strategic business partners. The “Tank” sought Alexander and Kannely’s business out and invited them to be a part of the show.
“They were telling us they had almost 60,000 companies apply this year,” Alexander said. “Then they narrowed it down to just shy of 200 to about 150.”
Alexander said he was pleased they could be a part of “Shark Tank.”
Filming for the episode took place in June 2015 and the business partners have been waiting since then to share the outcome with others. The night the episode aired, Alexander and Kannely threw a party and watched it with their loved ones.
Kannely said he was “stoked” for their “Shark Tank” episode. “It’s exciting to be out there. It’s going to be a lot of good publicity for our business, and it let people know that we exist, which is excellent,” he said.
Alexander and Kannely included the necessities in their product pitch to the sharks: necessity, functionality and humor. They had a toilet set up in the room before they walked in and a giant cardboard cutout of a toilet that later fell and scared the investors as they were discussing the logistics of the product.
“Sharks, it’s time to explain the toilet in the room,” Alexander said. “Each night millions of people awake to the call of nature. They stumble out of bed into the bathroom and they’re faced with a terrible choice: turn on the blinding lights and wake themselves up or go at it alone in the dark. Neither is a good option.”
Kannely said the light attaches to the side of the toilet and lets off a soft glow.
“It’s simple, small and clean,” Kannely said. “Our main priorities are number one and number two.”
Alexander said they plan to improve the product by eventually projecting images as the light shines on the toilet. He showed that by projecting an image of Kevin O’Leary, one of the sharks, which made all the sharks laugh.
O’Leary made a deal with Alexander and Kannely of $100,000 for 25 percent of their company. “I am going to light America’s toilets up,” O’Leary said.
Alexander said he was pleased with how things went on the episode of “Shark Tank” and they are happy to finally have an open relationship with O’Leary now that the episode has aired.
Alexander and Kannely plan to continue inventing products along with improving IllumiBowl.
Bed, Bath and Beyond is currently selling IllumiBowl for $19.99. Alexander and Kannely hope to have their product in most retail stores within the year.