Robert Allison of Las Vegas, Nevada appeared on the first season of Shark Tank in 2009. He pitched his product Lifebelt, a patented device designed to prevent people from driving without seat belts — and ultimately save lives. When a Lifebelt is installed in a car, the engine won’t start until the Lifebelt is buckled. On Shark Tank, Allison asked for $500,000 for 10 percent of the company. Shark investor Kevin O’Leary offered to buy the patent from Allison for $500k. Robert Herjavec offered $1 million for the patent. Allison declined both offers.
Since Shark Tank, Allison reportedly made a multi-million dollar deal with Gillman Automotive Group, a network of car dealerships in Houston. However, there is no mention of Lifebelt on the Gillman website and the product doesn’t seem available for purchase anywhere. It’s the Shark’s offers — and not Lifebelt’s ultimate market penetration — that surprised renowned Angel Investor David S. Rose of Rose Tech Ventures. After watching this episode, the colorful and exuberant Rose wrote of the Sharks‘ reaction: “They are all certifiably insane.” Rose’s always interesting take on the proceedings continues:
“I still can’t get my jaw off the floor about this one! The inventor claims to “have a patent” on a seatbelt ignition interlock system. What!?! Does not one person in that studio have any recollection of the 1971 NHTSA regulations REQUIRING passive restraint systems in all new vehicles? Which led to many manufacturers building in seatbelt interlock systems? Before consumers nearly rioted and forced their removal? IF he has a patent on ANYTHING, it would be for a particular implementation of an aftermarket interlock…for which the market would be about…zero. The fact that any investor would offer anything for this is beyond my comprehension. The fact that he would turn down a million bucks for it is perfectly comprehensible (given my familiarity with dogged entrepreneurs) but a crying shame, since it is INFINITELY more money that he will ever see from his ‘invention’. What a cluster muck! (Now, ask me how I really feel :-)”