Apple Growth Partners

“Stark Tank” Drives Young, Local Innovation

Investing in our communities is a core credo at Apple Growth Partners. Last evening, I proudly began my second term as a judge, supporter, and raving fan of Stark Tank, a play on the now-famous “Shark Tank” television show. This event has evolved into a series, garnering statewide attention and admiration among those in educational and innovative circles.

No strings attached, no red tape, and not even oversight… these are the tenets Ken Brott envisioned when he dreamt up Stark Tank four years ago. With some help from his friends, Dr. Dominic Bagnoli, Sue Grabowski, and Mark Fedor, Brott embarked on a mission to fill a void he noticed during his days as a Lake County School Board member. This program is a potential remedy to the brain-drain experienced by Ohio’s eighth-largest county.

“I really wanted Stark County students to have a venue to develop innovative ideas, and I just wasn’t seeing viable opportunities to do so,” said Brott, an innovator himself in co-founding Northeast Ohio-based DRB Systems and later leading Sgt. Clean Carwash chain.

Stark Tank was born, where Stark middle and high school students could pitch their inventive ideas to selected judges, and get a shot at seed money for their concepts. “In our first event, 125 community attendees watched five teams pitch their ideas,” said Brott. “And thankfully, Ray Hexamer (president, Stark Development Board) was in the audience and offered us assistance to take Stark Tank to the next level.” 

The assistance offered by Hexamer blossomed and soon Stark Tank had help from Strengthening Stark, Junior Achievement, and Stark Education Partnership (SEP), with individual support from SEP’s Innovative Projects Strategist Jay Moody, a long-time contributor to Stark County education. The most significant value, according to Moody, is not the money but the access it gains for students. Says Moody, “Stark Tank is giving students the opportunity to get solid advice from business leaders. That’s really beneficial to have our students meet with successful entrepreneurs.”

Stark Tank has grown in popularity so much, notes Brott, that it now includes not only Stark middle and high schools but also Stark-area colleges and universities, with 300 teams entering the competition in 2023.

When asked if he will expand Stark Tank to other counties, Brott says that he and his three co-founders are happy to share their concept, but the event will remain a Stark County event under their watch. “We have a good thing going; the simplicity and singularity of focus are what has made it successful. I have no plans to grow this beyond what it already is,” says Brott. Those are uncommon words from a man who has spent his career growing companies. Season 4 of Stark Tank debuted on March 9 with judges Bill Morgenstern, Grabowski, Fedor, and yours truly.  The series will continue on April 26, April 27, and May 17, all at 6:15 pm. Due to capacity limitations, events are live-stream only, courtesy of Perry School District’s production team, at