EMERYVILLE -- On Friday, a co-founder of an East Bay startup will appear on the reality show "Shark Tank," where he will be subjected to a ruthless panel of multi-millionaire judges who may throw money his way -- or humiliate him on prime-time television.
It's a risk Revolights, an Emeryville company that invented high-tech bicycle lights that aim to improve bicyclist safety, was willing to take to have a shot at a bit of fame and fortune. Revolights Co-Founder Kent Frankovich will appear on the hit ABC series, which airs Friday at 6 p.m., and will attempt to woo a panel of entrepreneurs and win their financial investment in his small company.
"We saw it as a great opportunity to get with these guys that have an incredible network and incredible expertise in small business, so we said 'OK we'll do it,'" Frankovich said.
But he also is slightly terrified of how he, and Revolights, will appear on the show, which is one of the network's most-watched evening programs.
"It's just the craziest nerves, just knowing that 8 million people are going to watch it," he said, "and you have no control over how they're going to edit it."
He'll find out tonight, when he and the rest of the Revolights team -- which comprises seven employees -- watch the show and prepare for their website to be swamped.
In previous "Shark Tank" episodes, even companies that were rejected quickly saw surge of new revenue -- millions of dollars in some cases, a boon for any fledgling startup. On "Shark Tank," budding entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to a panel of millionaire and billionaire tycoons and get an immediate answer -- either a resounding 'yes' to investing for a stake in the company, or a deflating 'no' likely followed by some ruthless criticism.
Frankovich said the show was taped late last year, but a contract with ABC prohibits Revolights from talking about it. "Shark Tank" producers said they discovered Revolights through an online new article and watched the video posted on the company's website.
"We were blown away by what (Kent) had created," producers said in an email. "We reached out to him right away about being on 'Shark Tank.'"
"The whole experience was crazy," Frankovich said. "We watched every episode to prepare."
Frankovich, 30, will represent Revolights on the show alone, but the company is a partnership between Frankovich and 32-year-old Adam Pettler. The battery-powered LED bicycle lights mount on the front and back wheels, illuminating the bicyclist's path without shining in the bicyclist's face or blinding anyone else on the road. They respond to pedal speed, and blinking red tail lights alert others on the road when the bike is slowing. The lights are attached to the hub of the wheels and the spokes so they are impossible to steal without swiping the entire wheel.
"It's a complete re-imagining of how we can light a bicycle that serves a number of functions, including safety and theft proofing," said Kai McMurtry, marketing specialist at Mission Bicycle Company in San Francisco, which sells Revolights.
REI also sells the lights, which retail for $139 for one wheel or $229 for both. Revolights is also coming out with a cheaper rear-wheel light that will sell for about $89.
Mai Le, director of the annual Bike to Work Day, which Revolights helps sponsor, uses the lights when biking around San Francisco.
"Lights are an essential part of safety, especially for commuting biking," she said. "The reason why cyclists get hit is because they aren't seen."
Frankovich came up with the idea when he was pedaling home one night from Stanford University, where he received his master's degree in mechanical engineering. He had a lamp on his helmet, but hit a pothole that was obscured in darkness and was nearly thrown from his bike.
He and Pettler, a friend from Walnut Creek where they both grew up, joined forces to craft a business plan. In 2011, Revolights launched its first of three Kickstarter campaigns. They raised more than $215,000.
But Frankovich said "that money quickly goes completely away" and Revolights needs additional investment to continue growing. The company also recently completed an angel-led Series A funding round.
Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.
Where to watch: Shark Tank on ABC
When: Friday at 6 p.m.
Where to buy: Revolights.com, Mission Bicycle Company in San Francisco, REI.com and REI stores in Berkeley and San Francisco
How much: $139 for one wheel, $229 for a set of two. The new "arch" rear light starts at $69 on Kickstarter or retails at $89