Innovation Spotlight: formula O2

Jennifer Wray
Dave Colina

formula O2 is blazing a trail with a new approach to recovery drinks.

Dave Colina was hard at work with a demanding day job at Nationwide, a time-consuming volunteer project in the evenings and a desire to squeeze in workouts and nights out with friends, too.

His was a lifestyle buoyed by Red Bull and Gatorade, until he came to a realization while talking with a friend: "I was like, 'It's kind of ironic because I work out a lot, I eat pretty well, I've got this reasonably healthy lifestyle, but I fuel it with a lot of garbage, and I know better, but what else is there?'"

The friend, Dan Kim, then a med student at Ohio State University-and now medical director of Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center's Wheelchair Clinic-confessed he, too, was supporting his lifestyle with unhealthy recovery drinks.

"So, we're both like, 'OK, you know what, we should make our own drink. How hard can that be?'" Colina recalls. "Turns out it's not all that easy to make a drink that's all-natural, that tastes really good and that delivers on its functional promise."

Their first outing led to the short-lived formula AM, a DIY project from start to finish, with its creators handling everything from formulation to product design, packaging and even bottling. Sold as a hangover remedy when it entered the market in 2011, formula AM was discontinued in mid-2012. "The pilot taught me a lot about the beverage industry, it taught me a lot about sales. … People were paying $5 for a drink that tasted terrible," Colina admits.

Back to the drawing board. Their goal: A drink that "didn't have anything artificial, didn't have anything that was based on pseudo-science … or anything with strange ingredients that you couldn't pronounce," Colina says.

To create formula O2, they hired food scientists and spent nine months refining the oxygen-infused drink, which is bottled in Arizona and includes ingredients such as 140 mg of caffeine from green coffee beans, 2.5 times the electrolytes of leading sports drinks-the ratio of sodium to potassium, modeled after a standard IV bag, is intended to help drinkers rehydrate-and natural sweeteners.

The drink has 7-10 times more oxygen than tap water, which aids athletes in recovering from tough workouts, Colina says. "To my knowledge, we're the only oxygenated sports or recovery drink or energy drink of our kind on the market, which is very cool, very innovative; the flipside of that is it's also a challenge to educate people about it."

formula O2 is available in two flavors: orange mango and grapefruit ginger. "We ended up with a formulation that's pretty simple and clean and tastes pretty good, and people, it turns out, they like it," says Colina, formula O2's president and CEO.

formula O2 debuted at the 2014 Arnold Sports Festival, where, in addition to crowd giveaways, CrossFit competition winners received the beverage in their prize packages.

"We went through our entire weekend supply in the first five or four hours, and that sort of set the pace for us for the rest of the year in more ways than one," says Colina, now a CrossFit trainer himself.

Dale King was one of the sports festival CrossFit winners. The owner of PSKC CrossFit in Portsmouth first tried the drink in an attempt to quash a post-Arnold hangover. "Once I drank a can and was not hungover any more, I knew it wasn't just a gimmicky sports drink. ... I shot (Colina) an email and said, 'Hey man, do you guys do wholesale? I've got to get this for sale in my gym,'" he says. Now formula O2 is his gym's top-seller.

Colina and his team work closely with retailers such as King to help them introduce formula O2 to customers. "It's a product with a relatively low brand awareness, relatively high price tag and very high quality. What that means is if you put it on a shelf, nobody's going to buy a drink that they've never heard of and that they have to pay $3.50 for. However, after you sample it out and talk about it, or do a few different things to introduce it to your audience, you've got repeat, loyal customers," Colina says. Some CrossFit gyms are moving $10,000 to $15,000 worth of product annually.

formula O2's newest evolution: Going non-GMO.

As of November, Colina says, "To my knowledge, we'll be the first non-GMO-certified recovery drink ever." And more growth is possible.

Says Colina, "We haven't even touched the potential for formula O2. We're in a few hundred CrossFit gyms with O2; there are 8,000 in the US. We're in 14 Whole Foods; there are about 500. And we're just talking a little slice of the fitness industry and a little slice of the natural foods industry."

Jennifer Wray is associate editor.

formula O2

1481 Showcase Dr., Grandview 43212

President and CEO: Dave Colina

Founded: 2014

Business: Sales of an oxygenated recovery drink featuring all-natural ingredients. Individual cans retail for $3.49; one million cans have been produced.

Employees: two full-time (not including Colina); four part-time; 40-50 brand ambassadors

2015 Revenue: wnd