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Fresh ideas: Valley entrepreneur appears on ABC TV’s ‘Shark Tank’
It looks like a magic trick. First, James Mitchell sprays ammonia on a tissue to establish the reek of the chemical. Then, he gives the tissue a couple of spritzes of Pure Ayre, and the smell vanishes. Then, he sprays some more Pure Ayre right into his mouth.
“It’s minty!” he says.
The trick is part showmanship, part science, and it’s the way Mitchell, founder of Clean Earth, Inc., has been selling his odor-eliminating product, Pure Ayre, for about 10 years.
“Our mantra is strong and safe,” Mitchell said. “Strong enough for urine, or even skunk odor, safe enough to use around a newborn.”
Pure Ayre is an enzyme-based odor eliminator made with food-grade ingredients, in a complex formula. It requires a starter, like sourdough bread does, and daily processing before it chemically transforms into the stuff that kills pet odor, but just went into Mitchell’s mouth.
“What’s in here is not what it starts out as,” Mitchell said, holding a bottle of the product. “Our logo shows what we do,” he explained, pointing at the three hexagons on the label. Two are connected, while one sits apart, demonstrating how the enzymes in Pure Ayre break down the organic molecules that cause stains and odors. By-products of this process are smaller molecules, typically water, or carbon dioxide. “This actually degrades the compound,” Mitchell said.
Whether it was the science or the showmanship, Pure Ayre was splashy enough to attract the attention of the ABC network’s business-pitching reality show, “The Shark Tank.”
Mitchell was selected to appear on the show after several friends urged him to apply for it last year. “I had never watched the show before,” he said, but he did catch one show of the last season, after he’d applied.
Watching that episode helped prepare him for the direct, often brutal comments of the potential investors, or sharks, when he filmed his segment last October. Still, he admits he was surprised by what happened in the filming. He can’t disclose much about his participation until his segment airs this spring, but he did say, “there are some things that are said that are intriguing,” and he predicted controversy.
Mitchell was happy to be selected for a “home” filming, feeling that it would even the experience out for viewers. A Shark Tank film crew visited Snoqualmie last November, filming him at work and at home for clips to include with his appearance on the show. “They got to get footage of my on my own turf, not just on their turf,” he said.
Regardless of what happened in his taping session for the show, the “Shark Tank” investors get a full year to consider investing in Mitchell’s business. Mitchell, however, is not waiting to hear from the sharks, he’s busy re-growing his business after a setback in 2008 that forced him to lay off his staff of four.
He excitedly lists some of his recent orders, his largest ever to a German customer, and another to a UK company spraying concentrated Pure Ayre into empty fuel tanks to reduce combustible gases to safe levels.
The business is important to him not just because of his financial livelihood, but also because of the potential good this product can do. “This has some worldwide miracle environmental applications,” he said.
Pure Ayre is marketed as an all-natural odor eliminator made with food-grade ingredients, emphasis on “food-grade,” because “we can’t rely on the word ‘natural’ to equal ‘safe’” Mitchell said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not have a definition for the word “natural” but emphasizes consumer education instead. Some day, Mitchell hopes to change the regulation of household products to include eliminating toxic components and requiring companies to list the ingredients on the label, as he does with Pure Ayre.
For now, though, he’s focusing on his family, wife Mariah and daughter Savonnah, and on doing good through Pure Ayre. He has several distributors and employs SKCAC Industries, a company that hires disabled people, to package his products for shipping.
“I want it to be a household name, but it doesn’t have to be our name... I don’t care, it’s giving them a safe product to use,” he said.