UI grads Shark Tank

University of Illinois graduates Keithan and Quiante Hedrick are shown making their pitch for Candi, a celebrity video-chat business, on an episode of ABC's 'Shark Tank' set to air at 7 p.m. Central Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

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CHAMPAIGN — Two University of Illinois graduates will find out tonight if some of the nation's most well-known investors will sink their teeth into their celebrity video-chat business as they make their pitch to the crew on ABC's "Shark Tank."

The episode featuring Quiante and Keithan Hedrick airs at 7 p.m. Central tonight.

On the Hedricks' platform, called Candi, users can pay to arrange virtual meetups with celebrities and influencers.

“We built this company without any prior connections to Hollywood,” Keithan said. “We didn’t know any stars, we didn’t have friends who were agents, we were able to crack into one of the most desirable industries in the world through hard work.”

The Hedricks, now based in Chicago, were on campus not too long ago. Quiante finished her degree in 2014, while Keithan, her high school sweetheart, graduated from the UI College of Law one year later.

Quiante is Candi’s CEO. She was several months pregnant when the company first launched in April 2020.

Twenty-two months later, their site sells video-chat appearances with more than 300 celebrities and influencers, including former NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis and 10-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist Chaka Khan.

“The first ‘yes’ is really surprising,” Quiante said of the recruitment process. “It’s like, ‘I know I believe in my company, but they believe in it too.’”

Quiante recalled a memorable Mother’s Day message when Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Mya first agreed to be a part of Candi. Keithan came into the living room singing one of the R&B superstar’s hit tracks.

The couple couldn’t disclose anything about the outcome of tonight's episode, though it was already revealed that the guest shark is comedian Kevin Hart.

What they said they tried to communicate through their pitch: “Imagine what we could do with more capital and resources,” Keithan said.

The idea arose after the couple watched reaction videos to Cameo, an app where celebrities record special messages for paying fans.

It was a business pivot after the couple's first foray, InstaSpeakers, a live, on-demand translating app. The pandemic “eviscerated their business model overnight” since their primary clients were travelers to the U.S., Keithan said. The idea for Candi percolated in late 2019 but came to the forefront once the pandemic forced everything remote.

The Hedricks have two sons, a 7-year-old and 1-year-old. Their eldest has badgered them for results from tonight's show “more than anybody.”

“We can’t even tell him,” Keithan said.

Whenever they return to Champaign-Urbana, there’s one place they immediately want to visit.

“Green Street," Keithan said. "Specifically, Burrito King.”

Ethan Simmons is a reporter at The News-Gazette covering the University of Illinois. His email is esimmons@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@ethancsimmons).

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