Milford recreational oxygen company returns to 'Shark Tank' next week

Boost Oxygen founder and CEO Rob Neuner

Boost Oxygen founder and CEO Rob Neuner

Contributed / Boost Oxygen

MILFORD — The only thing tougher than selling ice in the Arctic might be selling a business idea to Kevin O’Leary on the ABC reality program, “Shark Tank.”

But a Milford pair of Milford entrepreneurs pulled it off in 2019, scoring a $1 million investment in their recreational oxygen company from the shark known as “Mr. Wonderful.” Now the company is returning to the show on Friday, May 7 at 8 p.m. to update the company’s growth in the past two years.

“It’s a lot about how we’ve grown globally, how we’ve been able to help the Connecticut Food Bank and our relationship with them and how we’ve grown with national retailers,” said Bill Banks, content marketing director for Milford-based Boost Oxygen.

Boost Oxygen started in 2007 in Bridgeport, and company founder Rob Neuner relocated the business to Milford a few years later. The company makes a 95 percent pure oxygen that comes in a recyclable aluminum bottle. The product is marketed toward athletes, those in high altitude, older adults, those in locations with poor air quality, and even as a hangover remedy.

The company has received a lot of interest during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Banks said Boost is not medical grade.

“Pure supplemental oxygen was used to treat COVID, and people were searching us out to learn more,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are not medical-grade, and it was an education process to teach people that our product is strictly for recreational purposes, not medical grade.”

Even with that caveat, Banks said sales were brisk.

“When COVID hit hard here in the U.S., we went through a year's supply of our canisters in three weeks,” he said. “We were completely sold out.”

To clarify the proper use of Boost, the company launched a new website with testimonials, articles and videos stating the difference between Boost Oxygen and medical grade oxygen.

“It’s been a great help to us moving forward,” he said.

Boost Oxygen was also in high demand during the fires in the western part of the country because the air quality was terrible, Banks said.

“Our suppliers on the west ran out of the product,” he said.

Although Boost Oxygen has been around since 2007, it was a phone call from the producers of “Shark Tank” that turned out to be the break the company needed, Banks said.

“The $1 million deal they agreed to is one of the biggest in Shark Tank history. It was huge for the company to get that worldwide exposure,” Banks said. “Whenever it reruns, it’s always a source of publicity for us.”

Neuner had been a long-time viewer of the show, and knew that preparation would be important, Banks said.

“Our COO Mike Grice joined Rob for the appearance, and they both prepared and practiced for it because sometimes some entrepreneurs go out there and they are unprepared,” he said.

All during pre-production, the business people who are about to make their pitch for investment from the shows “sharks” are kept isolated from the series regulars.

“You don’t meet the sharks. There’s no interaction with the sharks,” Banks said. “When those doors open and those entrepreneurs walk in, it’s the first time they are meeting the sharks. There’s no practice. There’s no run-through. That’s it, you’re going in, and it's time.”

A year after their appearance on the show, Neuner and Grice turned the tables, interviewing O’Leary via video chat, and asked him why he chose them when they pitched their product.

“It reminded me of trying to sell ice in the Arctic. That’s what I originally thought,” O’Leary answered. “As the pitch went on, it started to make more and more sense as I heard him speak of high altitude cities, performance for athletes, and it started to have meat on the bone.

The preparation paid off, O’Leary said.

“If this had been a concept with no sales, no distribution strategy and no marketing setup, I would have never invested in it,” he said. “The best presentations get better as time goes on, and that’s what happened with Boost.”