THE biggest deal in Australian Shark Tank history was a dud.

Last year, Kane Bodiam scored a record $2.5 million investment from entrepreneur Andrew Banks for a 22.5 per cent stake in his biodegradable coffee pod business iCapsulate, sparking a bitter response from rivals who accused him of making misleading statements.

Mr Bodiam later said he had been the victim of a "smear campaign" after it emerged that he was found by a Sydney court in 2015 to have made false claims about his role at his former workplace.

In the wake of the controversy, Mr Banks said the deal was "on hold" pending "confirmation that they had the competitive advantage in biodegradable capsules", with testing being conducted by the CSIRO.

"That was a bit of a problem," Mr Banks said this week, revealing the deal was ultimately called off. "It didn't go because on the show you'll remember they said, 'We are the exclusive producers of biodegradable coffee pods and the CSIRO will validate that soon.'

"And guess what? They didn't, and they aren't. So for 2.5 million bucks I wasn't going to risk that.

"It was [a shame], because their revenues were getting close to $15 million that year and $21 million the next, they had a reasonable business. They still [do], they just don't have my money.

"I mean it's not bad, I don't think it's a great business. I was fortunate, a very good friend of mine is Les Schirato at Vittoria Coffee, so within two days I was in his office getting all the data I needed from one of the largest coffee pod producers in the county, the biggest roaster in the country.

"He was able to segment the market for me and tell me what chance I had, if any, of making that business grow. That's part of the things Sharks use, which people probably don't realise.

"We've made mistakes, we've learnt a lot, we have capital, we have some success stories - but what we also have is a network.

"And if I don't know the answer to something, I can usually find someone who will help get the answer. It's a big part of business, being able to pick up the phone and say, 'What the hell do you think of this?'"

Andrew Banks and Kane Bodiam in happier times.
Andrew Banks and Kane Bodiam in happier times.

 

Mr Bodiam hit back, however, describing the comments as "strange" and saying iCapsulate made an "internal decision" not to proceed with the deal due to a lack of communication. He said he only ever spoke to Mr Banks' personal assistant following the show.

"We gave them some info at the beginning, but when we received all the certification and everything we just never continued [with the deal]," he said.

"They stopped communicating so we stopped communicating. It was just moving slowly and we were moving quite quickly. We made a decision probably two or three months after we met Andrew that we were just going to go it alone."

He said iCapsulate's hermetic Nespresso-compatible capsule, which launches next month, had been certified as biodegradable and compostable under the EN 13432 standard and been awarded the OK Compost conformity mark by international certifying bodies Vincotte and TUV.

He said contrary to Mr Banks' claims, the CSIRO was not involved in the process, and that the internationally recognised certificates were enough to substantiate biodegrabaility claims as per Australian Competition and Consumer Commission guidelines.

Mr Bodiam said he originally went on the show "just for some marketing for our business and if something came to fruition from it so be it". "After the show we were contacted by multiple people who said the deals always fall over in due diligence," he said.

He said $2.5 million was not a lot of money "in the whole big scheme of what we're doing". "If you look at $2.5 million, it's barely a deposit on new machinery," he said. "We weren't concerned."

Last year, the heads of the three largest manufacturers of Nespresso-compatible capsules in Australia questioned the statements made by Mr Bodiam on the show, particularly the claim that he had contracts with "Australia and New Zealand's largest coffee companies".

Mad Coffee Capsules director Charlie Stillisano, CoffeeCaps director Tony Rubenstein and Podpac director Toby Strong also suggested Network Ten failed to do the appropriate due diligence on Mr Bodiam's business.

"Our industry is small here in Australia, with only four manufacturers of significant size - Mad Coffee Capsules, CoffeeCaps, Podpac and iCapsulate," they wrote in an open letter.

"All four of us have made significant capital investments in the millions of dollars, but only three of us have been successful in winning significant contracts. The odd one out is Kane Bodiam of iCapsulate."

At the time, the Nespresso-compatible brands available from Coles and Woolworths included the supermarkets' private label, Vittoria, Grinders, Republica, Pod-a-licious, L'OR, Lavazza, Cafe Royal.

According to the letter, none of those were manufactured by iCapsulate. "In fact, we are not aware of a single major retail store in Australia from which a customer can purchase coffee capsules packed by iCapsulate," they wrote.

Mr Bodiam would not name specific brands, citing client confidentiality, but said iCapsulate had more than 18 contracts, manufactured more than 40 million capsules a year and employed more than 40 staff in its facilities.

"It's a little comical," he said. "We have contracts that outweigh those. We have more staff than all of them. One of them [recently] lost a pretty large contract to me. We have more knowledge than those three companies put together.

"I think there's a bit of jealousy - off the back of the show, the amount of inquiries we had from manufacturers and still do, that's what we wanted to get."

Five years ago, Shark Tank's US judges made the costliest mistake in the show's history by passing on Ring, a 'smart' doorbell which last week was purchased by Amazon for $1 billion.

At the time founder Jamie Siminoff was brutally rejected on the show. He was seeking $700,000 for a 10 per cent stake in his company, valuing it at just $7 million. "It could be worth $7 million, $80 million, $90 million, [but] I just don't see the progression, and for that reason, I'm out," he was told by Mark Cuban.

frank.chung@news.com.au

Shark Tank returns to Channel Ten soon


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