On a rainy October day at Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif., entrepreneurs hope to get funding to put their businesses on the fast track to success. But first, they must convince at least one of a panel of investors that they're good bets.
On Friday, ABC premieres the second season of "Shark Tank," adapted by reality mogul Mark Burnett from the British series "Dragons' Den." In both, investors consider whether to put their own money into businesses based on concepts ranging from brilliant to dubious.
For Burnett, who immigrated to Los Angeles as a young British military vet, this day has a personal connection.
"Around 2 p.m. today," he says (at the moment, that's about 15 minutes away), "28 years ago, I got off a plane in America for the first time, with a couple hundred dollars in my pocket. Oct. 18, 1987.
"I only remembered today because I was coming to 'Shark Tank.' I was thinking about these people who are really trying to make something of ideas, with the American Dream. I saw the date, and I was like, 'Wow.' "
As to why he didn't stay in Britain, which has a more extensive social safety net, Burnett says, "The American Dream. America is, has always been, and will always remain, the greatest opportunity to people. I'm an American citizen now. I have three American kids.
"I love this country, and it's funny that I'm sitting here today, talking about 'Shark Tank,' which has the same value system. It's things like this that drive America -- small businesses."
But because this is America, money isn't doled out because of warm, fuzzy feelings. For tech and sports entrepreneur Mark Cuban, comic and businessman Jeff Foxworthy, real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, infomercial pioneer Kevin Harrington, tech innovator Robert Herjavec, fashion icon Daymond John, and financial expert Kevin O'Leary (not every Shark appears in every episode), it's all about the numbers.
"I have a basic philosophy," says Corcoran, "[that says], 'Does the thing solve a big problem? Does it take big money to get it out there?' If something solves a big problem and takes a little bit of money to get it out there -- these are the businesses that always make money.
"If only the paper clip would walk in! Wouldn't you kill to have that?"
The numbers also have to mesh with the personalities. On this day, John passed on an investment because the entrepreneurs were more interested in throwing on extra bells and whistles than building steadily on what they already had.
"They're creative people," he says. "They'd have burned through the money creating something else. They're great on their own, because they would be their best restriction. 'We don't have any more money.' But our money?"
Foxworthy -- who stepped into the show because of his association with Burnett on Fox's game show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" -- empathizes with the dreamers but says, "So much of this is common sense. Everybody's got a dream, but this dream, 'Do you have enough facts? Does it make enough common sense that I'm going to invest money in you?'
"You have to separate the emotion from it. For me, I don't care how hyped up your pitch is, I'm looking at 'How much does it cost to make? How many did you sell? Do you have a patent?'
"You cut through the rigmarole and the hype and go, 'Does this make sense, yes or no?' It's a pretty simple answer."