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San Francisco inventor of PlateTopper gets -- then loses -- ‘Shark Tank’ funding

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San Francisco entrepreneur Michael Tseng swam with the sharks on Friday’s episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” and reeled in an investment for what one “Shark” called “potentially the best product we’ve ever seen.” But on Twitter, the investor said she backed out of the deal.

Tseng emerged from a brutal bidding war for his invention – called PlateTopper – with a $90,000 investment for an 8 percent stake in his business from QVC queen Lori Greiner. She was one of five members of this episode’s panel of Sharks, all of whom are millionaire or billionaire entrepreneurs and investors.

On the night that the episode aired, Greiner, echoing the sentiments of her fellow Sharks, took to Twitter to say: “Sorry to say I wound up not liking his tactics much either, that agony didn’t end in the tank. I’m out!”

On the show, entrepreneurs like Tseng present their business concepts to the Sharks, who give thumbs-up – and sink their own money into the ideas – or give thumbs-down and send the inventors packing.

With his offer-and-counteroffer dance, Tseng irritated the Sharks to the point that only Greiner had an offer on the table at the end of the show. “I can’t stand him,” said one of Greiner’s fellow Sharks, Daymond John. A visibly annoyed John yanked his offer of $1 million for a 25 percent stake in PlateTopper.

Earlier in the show, Greiner had proposed $900,000 for a 30 percent share – a much richer deal than her final bid. At one stage, after some contentious back and forth with all of the other Sharks, Tseng had sought $1.5 million for a 10 percent share of his business. Tseng told the Sharks he valued the business at $15 million.

TV.com blogger Andy Daglas marveled that Tseng left with any money at all.

“This has got to be one of the steepest free-falls in the history of Shark Tank,” Daglas wrote. “Only the fact that he actually, miraculously, walked away with a deal prevents it from being a true tragic failure worthy of Greek drama.”

Tseng pegged sales of PlateTopper at $1 million. The product has been available on the QVC shopping channel’s website and Walmart’s website. But PlateTopper hasn’t been sold in brick-and-mortar stores; that’s likely to change with Greiner’s backing.

A “Shark Tank” fan blog said PlateTopper’s “sheer genius is in its simplicity.”

Relying on a suction mechanism, PlateTopper transforms a circular plate into a reusable, airtight food storage container. A pull tab releases the suction seal, which comes in five colors. PlateTopper, manufactured in China, is dishwasher-friendly and microwave-safe.

On fundraising website Kickstarter.com, Tseng wrote that he was “inspired to build the first PlateTopper prototype after trying to help my family put away leftovers. It was a frequent inconvenience to find matching lids for Tupperware containers in the kitchen cabinet. Tinfoil and plastic wrap also had their disadvantages as they were cumbersome to apply, not re-usable and not airtight.”

This spring, PlateTopper placed second in Walmart’s annual “Get on the Shelf” contest. Consumers cast more than 1 million votes for their favorites among more than 4,000 product submissions. “Get on the Shelf” is a program run by San Bruno-based @WalmartLabs, the retailer’s innovation arm.

Tseng started developing PlateTopper in 2005 while he was studying at Princeton University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and biology from Princeton, followed by a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from UCLA and a medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco. For more than a year, Tseng has devoted his career to PlateTopper.

On TV, “Tseng embodied the difference between operating under preparation and operating under pressure,” Daglas wrote. “His headstrong demeanor and inability to read the Sharks’ reactions didn’t reflect well on him as a business partner or someone you’d trust to run a company, no matter how can’t-miss his product is.”

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