Chris Leidel and Brian Mullen are a pair of University of Massachusetts-Amherst graduates who spun a startup company called Therapeutic Systems out of research done at the university to develop a medical device that helps people with autism and other disorders.
They were on the Big Concourse at Fenway Park for a game earlier this season along with fellow entrepreneurs and Red Sox fans Joshua Grzegorzewski, Dave Perry and Jason McCarthy. The five were there with a big group of people from a start-up accelerator called MassChallenge -- billed as the largest startup competition in the world, with a prize sponsored in part by the foundation of Red Sox owner John Henry.
Speaking of raising capital, who knew they would all win some bucks from MLB.com that night? A new episode of the game show "Bucks on the Pond" is being released every Tuesday and Thursday, and the latest one features that quintet, fielding questions with the kind of high energy you would expect in their line of work.
"It was a ton of fun taking part in the trivia," Leidel said Thursday in an E-mail to MLB.com. "We were actually there as part of a big group of startup companies with a promotion between a company called Racemenu and the Spartan Race that will be ran at Fenway Park in November. Showing up to a ballpark knowing you're going to have a great time is one thing ... then getting paid to do it -- doesn't get much better than that."
To see how much they were paid, just watch the show.
"Bucks on the Pond" is hosted by Jeremy Brisiel, and you might be a part of it when you least expect it. Fans at the ballpark interact with MLB.com's studio through the magic of technology in conjunction with game action inside.
The night it was taped, Clay Buchholz threw his third career shutout for the Red Sox. That gem helped ease the sting of the Boston Celtics' loss that night in Game 6 of their NBA playoff series against the Miami Heat, who were en route to the championship. That explains why some of them are wearing Paul Pierce jerseys, a sign of those times.
"'Bucks on the Pond' looks solid," Leidel said. "It's an awesome way to get people involved and pumped for the game. Some questions were softball till the end. If you invite us back, we want to be challenged ... just kidding, we want to win money. It's like 'Cash Cab,' except you're at a ballpark, which is way better than a smelly NYC cab."
In creating a new experience for fans, MLB.com is giving people a chance to earn bucks while they spend bucks there. Let's say you got up to order a hot dog between innings or you are at one of the souvenir stands on the concourse after the gates open. Or you are wandering past painted in blue, like two Royals fans were in the previous episode. Fans are selected randomly on the day the "Bucks" team is at that park, and suddenly the game is on.
Contestants are asked a trivia question -- general knowledge and baseball -- on each pitch during a half-inning of baseball. Get the question correct and win money. Get the question wrong and it's a strike. Three strikes and you're out.
The questions' difficulty and value increase with the number of outs in the on-field action: $5 easy questions to start, $10 medium-difficulty questions after one out, $20 hard questions after two outs. If the contestant lasts longer than the team's at-bat, they win the bucks in their bank.
The five Red Sox fans seemed to know more about Justin Bieber than about Derek Jeter. That may draw scoffs from some baseball purists, but then again, they are Red Sox fans, and perhaps it is a badge of honor to be seen as less than an expert about the Yankees' captain. You decide.
McCarthy went to business school with Leidel and Mullen, and is a MassChallenge alum. His startup was a UMass spinout called Precision Slip, which had a unique coating technology that reduces surface drag (to help increase fuel efficiency of large ships). His company is still very early stage with research being conducted at UMass.
Grzegorzewski has done work with Racemenu. Perry is part of a company called OsmoPure, a MassChallenge $100,000-winning alum company that makes on-the-bottle water filtration for third-world countries.
Leidel said Therapeutic Systems won $50,000 in last year's MassChallenge and remains involved with the organization as an alum. The company's Vayu Deep Pressure Vest has been featured in news media and trade publications. When he went to Fenway that night of Buchholz's gem, Leidel had no idea he would be asked these kinds of questions, though.
"I'm not sure how we were picked, but it was nice to be singled as being good at trivia -- mostly by looks, I guess," Leidel said. "Glad to know we're a group that looks like we know our random trivia."
In addition to the Red Sox, teams visited so far include the Orioles, Yankees, Marlins, Dodgers, Royals, Astros, Cubs and White Sox. Be on the lookout for the "Bucks" crew at your ballpark.