Open Water

These entrepreneurs were brave enough to enter the "Shark Tank" for a chance to pitch their ideas for a big investment and a stake in their companies.

Because it can be difficult to get the necessary capital it takes to start a small business in today’s economy, sometimes you have to get creative. These three entrepreneurs jumped at the chance-of-a-lifetime to get their products in front of millions of television viewers on “Shark Tank”, an ABC reality show in which inventors pitch their products to skeptical investors or the “Sharks”, who just happen to be five self-made billionaires.

Jeff Cohen

Voyage-Air Guitar

Jeffrey M. Cohen is a serial entrepreneur who has created a new medical device that will change the future of women’s healthcare forever. Strangely enough though, he’s probably best known for his controversial appearance on “Shark Tank.”

Cohen, CEO of Nashville-based Voyage-Air Guitar was soliciting $500,000 for 5% of the company, which produces a one-of-a-kind guitar that folds at the neck and stays in tune.

The producers of the show had been shopping at an old guitar store called McCabe’s in Santa Monica, Calif. when they came across a Voyage-Air Guitar and they had asked the store manager how to get a hold of Cohen.

“I was actually in Chicago at a gynecology conference and the producers called up and talked to my sales director,” Cohen said. “They said they wanted to talk to the CEO of the company. I got off a plane from the conference and I get a call from my office saying you have to get here right away. The whole team came in my office and I called the producer and they told me about “Shark Tank.” I didn’t think it was a good idea at first.”

According to Cohen, the Sharks didn’t know anything about him or the guitar before they filmed the episode.

Cohen said it was easy for him to turn down a half million dollar offer that was for 51% of his patent. Cohen still wanted to produce the guitars while Shark Kevin O’Leary felt it would be better to license the patent. “There’s something powerful about saying no. I actually did want to do a deal with them if they would have made me a reasonable offer than it would have been great. The deal was just so bad. In fact, if you remember, I was sort of stalling for time trying to think of a way to make it acceptable. It was easy to walk away from. It was great. They called me the next morning and said it was great TV.”

Being on the show hasn’t changed the direction that Cohen would like to see his business go or the way he plans to go about marketing his product. “It hasn’t changed my plan other than it’s helping me grow faster,” he said. “We nearly doubled the number of dealers we have representing us. And it’s told me that I need to produce a lower cost product quicker. We need a $399-$499 price point. I’m getting a ton of calls and I’ve done interviews with a lot of media outlets which is helping the buzz but I’m convinced that I need to have an impulse buy price point.”

Craig French

Crooked Jaw Fashions

Getting shot down on “Shark Tank” wasn’t easy for Craig French, co-founder of skate, surf, snow and MMA focused streetwear brand Crooked Jaw, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. The company got its name from a broken jaw that he suffered while playing college lacrosse.

French was looking to raise $200,000 in funding with the investors getting a 20% stake in the company. Shark Daymond John (the founder of the FUBU clothing line) said French was one in 10,000 (nothing new) and although he did have great energy and passion, he was not willing to invest. And with that, all the other sharks bowed out.

“I knew it was going to be intimidating walking right into the Shark Tank, but I was confident in the business we had built and felt we had nothing to lose,” he said. “I guess we could have asked for less money, but we figured we might as well go in swinging for the fences.”

For French, even though he didn’t get a check from the Sharks, he landed a deal with a major retail chain and the Crooked Jaw website saw 50,000 visitors in less than 24 hours.

“The entire experience was amazing and priceless,” French said. “It is hard to explain how valuable the whole thing was to our business. Being on the show has gotten the company to a new level and we now have experienced the power of television. TV is still the most powerful form of marketing and advertising.”

French has some words of wisdom for other entrepreneurs out there. “PERSERVERANCE! Believe in your product! Don’t listen to all of the pessimists and naysayers out there. If you believe in your heart and soul that what you have is special, than you must do whatever it takes to reach your goals.”

Robert Allison


About 8 years ago, a woman that Robert Allison was involved with lost a sister in a car accident. One day she shared that ordeal with him and started reliving the whole experience five years later. It killed him that he just had to sit there and take it. That was all the inspiration he needed to create the LIFEBELT device, which prevents you from starting your car if your seatbelt, isn’t fastened.

Allison went into the Shark Tank looking for $500,000 for a 10% stake in his company. After much discussion, the best deal he got was a million dollars for his patent, which he turned down. His reasoning being that he wants to make LIFEBELT a nationally recognized brand.

“If they would have said, we’ll give you a million dollars, you can keep 40 to 50% of your company and it’ll be a national brand, I would have said yes,” Allison said.

While many might think he’s crazy for turning down a million dollars, I think Allison is truly dedicated to saving lives and for him it’s about more than just making money.

“I feel like if you have the ability to do something and don’t do it, you are just a horrible person, he said. “You have the obligation to help someone if you can do it. It’s nice that everyone that works for me is committed to the same thing—saving lives.”

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