Milwaukee startup appears on ‘Shark Tank’

Hyde Sportswear walks away without a deal

Hyde makes a thinner life jacket than the traditional version for water sports.

Milwaukee startup Hyde Sportswear appeared on ABC television show “Shark Tank” Sunday evening, but did not walk away with a deal.

The show, in which investors including Mark Cuban hear a startup pitch and then decide whether to invest in return for an equity stake, provided Hyde with exposure on the national stage.

Hyde makes a thin, versatile life jacket called the Wingman for use by athletes in water sports. The life jacket is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Founders Pat Hughes and Mike Fox sought $200,000 in exchange for 12.5 percent of their business. They pitched the product, which allows for greater range of motion than other life jackets using innovations like a CO2 mounting plate, a triple bursting zipper and an over-the-shoulder ripcord.

“Foam life jackets are inherently buoyant, while inflatable life jackets are loose-fitting, awkward and not designed for in-water activities,” Hughes said.

“The wingman instantly floats you face-up from any position and it can be used over and over again with the new CO2 pack,” Fox said.

Hughes came up with the idea in 2012 while he was a student at the University of Wisconsin, and competed in a triathlon in which another athlete drowned during the water portion of the race.

The company sells the vest for $249. Its landed cost is $65. Over the past 10 months, Hyde has sold about $120,000 worth of product, Hughes said.

The sharks expressed concerns about the early stage of the product, the liability aspects of it, the small niche of users and the amount of investment required to generate a higher level of revenue.

Kevin O’Leary, the shark dubbed “Mr. Wonderful,” offered $200,000 for 50 percent, but Fox and Hughes turned it down because they didn’t want to give up so much equity.

“Even though we didn’t get a deal today, we’re going to keep going with our product. This is all about saving lives and we know that if we get the product out there, we can help to make a difference,” Hughes said.

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