Self-inflating life vest inventor goes under
A company which once spruiked a seemingly ingenious life jacket that self-inflated if the wearer was drowning has collapsed, leaving a string of shareholders wondering what happened to the grand dreams of its designer.
Prolific Newcastle inventor David Ashard, a former guest on ABC's The New Inventors program, claims he tried to make the life jacket a success and "never once put a gun to anyone's head".
Mr Ashard offered investors the chance to buy into his company ASI360 International in 2013, under which he would develop and market the self-inflating life vest complete with celebrity endorsement.
ASI360 was deregistered by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission last month - a move it takes when a company ceases trading or has overdue fees.
Now a trail of former shareholders across the Hunter and Central Coast have been left to rue the decision to back Mr Ashard's idea.
Central Coast business owner Kerry Redrup, 64, has lost the $60,000 which she invested in ASI360 at a vulnerable time in her life.
"At the time I was separating from my partner … People told me not to do it, I think I was just hoping I could set me and my son up, I was a bit vulnerable at the time," Ms Redrup told The Daily Telegraph.
"It was money I got from my parents inheritance."
She recalls being invited to two shareholder meetings, one in about 2014 where Ashard produced a prototype he intended to promote on breakfast TV.
She said it was a long way from being finished, and it was "like I had made it on my sewing machine".
"Honestly, I never heard anything from David after that meeting, that was it."
She was one of 36 people or companies to have held shares in ASI360.
"Some of these people were his friends, been his friends for years," Ms Redrup said.
Engadine resident Gary Etchells and wife Tricia also invested $60,000 in ASI360.
"I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that when I put money in, he had his heart and soul in building this product," Mr Etchells said.
As time passed he said Mr Ashard became difficult to contact.
"Whenever you tried to contact him he wouldn't take the call," he said.
Mr Ashard told The Telegraph he tried everything to make the life jacket a success and his investors joined willingly.
"I did believe and still do that I had the best life jacket that was ever made," Mr Ashard wrote in a statement.
"There has never been a fully automatic life jacket that you could swim while wearing and not have it activate as soon as it got wet, mine didn't activate until the wearer was in trouble and drowning under the water.
"So when I showed people what I wanted to do and what this life jacket could do most of the time they asked could they invest.
"I never once put a gun to anyone's head or forced them to invest."
He said up to $400,000 of the money invested went to patent fees, $200,000 to lawyers, engineer costs were $400,000 and $130,000 went to commercials and a website.
"Yes I drew a wage out of the company because I was working seven days a week to try and get this product to a stage of being marketable," he said.
He claimed engineering problems were one of the reason's the product never succeeded and that he only stopped communicating because some shareholders turned hostile.
"I put my whole life into this product because it was my baby, I did not set up this to rip anyone off," he said.
"I live in a rented premises, I drive an old Toyota ute, I have $532 in the bank, I have $15,000 in my superfund, I don't have anything because I have spent everything I earned on my inventions.
"I had made over 500 different life jacket modules that I designed, there were over 100 different bladders that I had tried to make."
Mr Ashard had planned to have Australian marathon swimming icon Susie Maroney promote the product when it hit the market in 2014.
Celebrity agent Max Markson confirmed Ashard did court his client in September 2013 and although a deal was never signed for Maroney's support, Mr Ashard seemed genuine at the time.
"We went down to Cronulla and we met with Susie," Markson told The Telegraph.
"We went back and forth and had dates lined up and everything.
"He had investors, he had people who wanted to back him into (the product).
"It might just be it didn't work out."
Mr Ashard has produced other invention ideas before and since the ill-fated lifejacket.
In 2009 he took the "finger hinge" on The New Inventors program, aiming to nullify the danger of getting a finger caught between a door hinge and a door frame.
Mr Ashard is still the secretary of a company called Beesmoker Pty Ltd, which holds an international patent on a fuel-powered beehive smoker.
Originally published as Self-inflating life vest inventor goes under