Column: This entrepreneur faced the ‘sharks’ … and won


JoAnn Termini-Pira and her 14-year-old son, Tyler, bounced onto the white stage hidden behind sunflowers with faces crafted onto them. Placing the flowers at their sides, they began speaking to the four sharks in front of them.

No, they weren’t real sharks that swim in the ocean. Instead, they were businesspeople — from companies like Ecumen, List Services Corporation, Holleran and Glynn Devins — who judged LeadingAge’s Idea Sharks competition, a setup similar to the popular ABC show “Shark Tank.”

The mother-son duo from Oakdale spent the next 15 minutes sharing their unique business idea and fielding questions from the sharks, leaving the stage Nov. 3 with $250 — the largest prize possible.

“[The sharks] were intimidating when I was watching the other man before me because he didn’t get that much money,” said Ms. Termini-Pira, director of therapeutic recreation at San Simeon by the Sound in Greenport. “But when I got on the stage they were not intimidating to me because I already knew that they listened to speeches all day long and that I was gonna get on that stage and entertain them with my silliness, with my seriousness. I knew that they were gonna have fun with me.”

Ms. Termini-Pira said their idea centers on “taking care of those who take care of others by adapting the culture of fun in the workplace.”

She added that judges were very supportive of the idea and liked their enthusiasm, with one shark reportedly saying, “I’d like to bottle you up and take you back to Texas!”

Ms. Termini-Pira, who began her position at San Simeon in February, said making employees feel appreciated and respected minimizes tension and increases profits in the workplace.

She used examples of activities she planned for workers to participate in during Nursing Home Week, such as an employee massage raffle, trivia wars, bingo and a lip sync battle, to further make her point.

“You can’t expect your employees to provide service with a smile if you don’t give them something to smile about,” she said.

JoAnn Termini-Pira and her son, Tyler Pira, at the Idea Sharks competition earlier this month (Credit: Courtesy).
JoAnn Termini-Pira and her son, Tyler Pira, at the Idea Sharks competition earlier this month (Credit: Courtesy).

In addition to Nursing Home Week, Ms. Termini-Pira organizes a weekly warrior word conference. Each Friday, she places fliers on the front desk at San Simeon containing one word. Residents and employees then have to come up with the most words using only the letters in the word on the flier by the following Tuesday.

Ms. Termini-Pira lit up as she explained how the contest was originally designed for the residents, but employees began playing as well, engaging in friendly competition.

This week’s word was “warmhearted.”

“Happy people create happy customers, so that’s the whole thing,” she said.

The Idea Sharks competition hosted 13 presenters from across the country. According to Danielle Gray, manager of exhibits and sales operations at LeadingAge, four of the 13 companies received the full monetary prize.

Each shark was allowed to give up to $50 to the presenter, totaling a maximum of $200. Additionally, the audience gave feedback on ideas and was allowed to award another $50.

“We have an education session and sometimes people’s ideas aren’t enough to do a full presentation, but they’re perfect for something like Idea Sharks,” Ms. Gray said. “It gives everyone an opportunity to participate in the education portion [of the conference].”

LeadingAge is a nonprofit organization that represents the field of aging services and says it’s dedicated to giving older adults “quality, flexibility and innovation they can trust.”

Ms. Termini-Pira is investing the prize money back into San Simeon and her concept of infusing fun into the workplace. She has already created an employee fund that she uses to buy prizes and items necessary for activities.

And while she’s proud she won the grand prize with her son, it wasn’t as important to her as simply being accepted into the conference.

“The thing is there was only 13 contestants and I was the only one from New York,” she said. “So even if I didn’t win, I felt like a winner.”

Nicole Smith is a reporter at Times Review Media Group. She can be reached at [email protected].

Photo credit: Nicole Smith