Alumnus to pitch novel unicycle on Shark Tank

Western alumnus David Martschinske and his company, Focus Designs, invented this self-balancing unicycle. He will appear on tonight’s episode of ABC’s Shark Tank in hopes of securing an investment deal for the invention. Courtesy photo

Western alumnus David Martschinske poses with his company's self-balancing unicycle in Japan. He will appear on tonight’s episode of ABC’s Shark Tank in hopes of securing an investment deal for the invention. Courtesy photo

Mary Doherty
WWU Alumni Association

David Martschinske, a 2008 graduate of Western Washington University in plastics engineering technology, will appear on tonight’s episode of ABC’s Shark Tank in hopes of securing an investment deal for his self-balancing unicycle.

Martschinske, co-owner of Focus Designs with Daniel Wood, will be pitching the company's SBU V3 (self-balancing unicycle, version 3). The unicycle is the latest iteration of Focus Designs’ “products for the last mile,” personal transportation systems that help people get from the bus or train to their home, work or other destination.

“Its uses have proven to be much more practical than we originally imagined, and our customers are loving the new design,” Martschinske said. “It’s portable – easy to carry at 27 pounds – and is small enough to store out of the way at home or the office. You can’t do that with a Segway.”

Growing up in Camas and graduating from Western, it may not be surprising that Martschinske developed an environmentally friendly product to encourage people to use public and alternative methods of transportation.

“In a nutshell, we’re a small group of tech nerds (self dubbed the N3RD H3RD) who have a passion for creating things. We have grown and adapted our business model to enable this passion. We manage all sales [via the Focus Designs website], distribution channels, and are very hands-on with quality control over manufacturing,” he said, adding the SBU V3’s largest markets are the European nations and California. “In the future, we’ll be designing and licensing a variety of new cool products from recreational equipment to personal transportation.”

Martschinske added, “Due to the uniqueness of our product, we get requests from other companies needing our design capabilities ... and a small consulting market has grown as well.”

Martschinske and Wood plan to capitalize on their engineering and design expertise to include a variety of motion-control devices, and they're looking to hire qualified people who want to work on these types of projects. The partners met while working at U.S. Digital in Vancouver, Wash., (where Martschinske completed two internships as a WWU student) and decided to join Wood in his entrepreneurial adventure to build an electric unicycle in 2009.

Focus Designs was launched in Martschinske’s nearby hometown of Camas. In 2011, they had their first angel investor and are now looking to build on that with a Shark Tank investor.

“We have an overabundance of resellers who want to sell them, but we have a delay in meeting the demand on the production end,” Martschinske said. “We’re dealing with growing pains – which is a good problem to have – and Shark Tank will be really good for us.”

The duo spent five days in early July in Los Angeles filming the Shark Tank episode that appears tonight. It was the week before Martschinske got married to Allison Budzier, a 2009 Western graduate in humanities and social sciences. Martschinske's little sister, Rachel, is a current Freshman at Western.

Martschinske earned a Presidential scholarship to attend Western and was a local youth group pastor. He said his favorite professor is the now-retired Steven Dillman.

“If I could only take one class, it would be his Design of Experiments class,” he said. “The logic from that class has made me successful in the way I think about everything – I question everything.”

The Focus Designs team invites anyone in the Vancouver area from the WWU community to join them for a special viewing party at Big Al’s tonight.

Vancouver, WA Viewing Party

  • When: 6 p.m. on Friday, October 26, 2012
  • Where: Big Al’s in Vancouver
  • Cost: Room is reserved, no-host bar and food

If you can’t make it to the viewing party, tune in at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central Time) for ABC’s Shark Tank.


Stephan Aarstol ('96), founder of Tower Paddle Boards, appeared on ABC's Shark Tank in March. He earned backing of billionaire Mark Cuban, who struck a deal in which he invested $150,000 for a 30-percent stake in the company, plus right of first refusal on investing in any business Aarstol does in the future (a first ever offer on Shark Tank).