Shark Tank Tale: What You Didn't See on TV

ABC’s quasi-reality-game show "Shark Tank" pits budding entrepreneurs and small business owners against seasoned investors looking to invest in new ventures.

Though not billed as educational television, the show offers some valuable lessons for those who dream of creating their own money-making scheme.

On this season's fourth episode a couple of the entrepreneurs' pitches got funded and a couple didn’t, all with the requisite reality TV drama edited in. But even when this group of investors (the “sharks”) decided not to throw money at a business, that didn't necessarily make the pitcher a loser. MainStreet spoke to one woman who walked away with no show money, but not empty-handed.

Consider this rejectee's inspiring success (so far) story:

Gina Cotroneo founded her company, Soul’s Calling, after she was assaulted in her home in 1997 (you can read her very graphic account of the incident in The Dallas Morning News).

Following the trial and conviction of her attacker, Cotroneo, then an art director living in Dallas, shared her story on Oprah. She wanted to help spread positive energy, and Soul’s Calling aims to do that by selling items such as umbrellas, bracelets and flip-flops with inspiring messages written on them.

In 2006 she began working at Soul's Calling full-time (she’s invested about $100,000 of her savings in the company). In 2007, her sales were $11,000 and in 2008, they were $18,000. And therein lies the problem. Even for a small business, those numbers are pretty low and it was on that basis that the sharks decided not to give her any money. (She’d asked for $150,000 in exchange for 25% of the company, based on a $600,000 valuation.)

“I know money has no soul. I never, ever, ever let emotion get in the way of an investment,” said Kevin O’Leary, the show's alpha shark (he’s also a bit of a hot head). Despite the brutal honesty, it was one of his more empathetic moments. “Your business is not worth $600,000. Here’s what it’s worth: Zero. That’s because it doesn’t make any money. Somebody has to tell you that. It might as well be me.”

The sharks agreed that Cotroneo’s emotional attachment to and belief in the business does not mean it is a good one. But there was a big part of the story that was left out.

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